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Japanese Masters

hokusai and hiroshige

Japanese Masters
hokusai and hiroshige

James Underhill
Piccadilly Books, Inc.
2658 Del Mar Heights Road
Del Mar, CA 92014, USA

Copyright 2011 Piccadilly Books, Inc.

ISBN: 978-1-937206-02-4

Published in association with Octavo Editions, LLC

No part of this book may be reproduced or utilized in any form or by any means,
electronic or mechanical, including photocopying and recording, or by any
information retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publisher.

The author would like to thank Miyako Yoshinaga for her careful reading of the manuscript.
Printed and bound in China

Credits: half-title page and table of contents page copyright visipix.

the Floating World 7

Hokusai 17

Thirty-six Views of Mt. Fuji 37

Hiroshige 85

100 Views of Edo 103

Formats of Japanese Prints 156

Select Bibliography 157

ryakuzu (View
of First Street,
from the series
Meisho Edo
hyakkei (One
Hundred Famous
Views of Edo).
ban, 1857.
Nihonbashi was
the commercial
center of Edo
(as it is now in
Tokyo). The
bridge over the
Nihonbashi River
was the major
outlet leading onto
the Tkaid Road
to Kyoto.


The Floating World

l n 1603, after a century of continual warfare between Japans great feudal lords, Ieyasu
Tokugawa was appointed shogun by the emperor. The sixteenth century in Japan is called the
Sengoku Jidai, the Age of the Country at War. Ieyasus accession to the shogunate established a
dynasty that brought stability to the country and would last 250 years. Thirteen years later at the
siege of Osaka, he defeated his last significant rivals; with this he became the supreme ruler of Japan.
Although the emperor invested the shogun, by this time in Japans history his role had been
reduced to a strictly ceremonial one. Revered by the entire Japanese people, he was, nonetheless,
merely a figurehead. The Tokugawa shogun ratified this state of affairs by moving the center of
power from Kyoto, which hosted the imperial court, to the new settlement of Edo (present-day
Tokyo). Edo had begun as a military encampment and grew to become the administrative and
economic capital of Japan. By 1800 it was home to over one million people.
One of the early challenges that the new ruling dynasty had to face was the gradually
increasing inroads made by European powers, looking for mercantile opportunities and Christian
converts. The first Europeans to arrive in Japan were Portuguese traders from Macao and Goa.
Hard on their heels came the first Jesuit missionaries. The story of their relations with the
Japanese people and their rulers is a complicated one; in some places they were cordially accepted,
in others cruelly persecuted. The religious message they brought was difficult for the Japanese to
understandJapanese lacked a word for Supreme Beingand Christian notions of good and evil
did not resonate with an ethos whose dominant dichotomy was between loyalty and treachery.
Nonetheless, the early preachers achieved some success, at first with the peasantry, who were
harshly oppressed, and, in time, even attracted some of the lesser aristocracy. At the height of
their influence the Jesuits found a ready audience with the daimyo Nobunaga, the leading military
figure in the generation preceding Ieyasu. japanese

Ieyasu and his successors rightly realized that the European missionaries were merely the
vanguard of their patrons mercantile and colonial ambitions. The benefits of foreign trade were
indisputable, but the dangers were also very real. As Spanish, Dutch and English representatives
followed the Portuguese into this new market, their rivalries with one another threatened to embroil
Japanese aristocratic houses. The Tokugawa dynasty first and foremost strove to maintain its hard-won
dominance and feared that the various European factions might seek to co-opt one or more of its
erstwhile rivals. This prompted intensified hostility toward foreigners and foreign influence, culmi-
nating in their complete expulsion. (The only exception was a small Dutch trading post on Nagasaki,
in which the merchants lived in a kind of quarantine.) In 1637 the government issued a proclamation
prohibiting any Japanese from leaving Japan and those who had left from ever returning. With this
began a period of isolation and cultural inwardness that was to last for more than two centuries.
This period was also one of increasing prosperity and the emergence of an urbanized middle
class (called chnin). One of Ieyasus decrees required all of the great feudal lords to spend a good
part of the year in attendance on the shogun in Edo. This allowed the centralized authority to keep

Utagawa Hiroshige. Kanbara yoru no yuki from the series Tkaid gojsantsugi no uchi (Fifty-three Stations
of the Tkaid Road). ban, between 1833 and 1836. Undoubtedly one of Hiroshiges masterpieces. The heavy snowfall
muffles the scene and the artists palette, only the human figures display touches of color. The artist uses the technique
japanese bokashi, in which ink was wiped off the block resulting in the gradation in the color of the sky from top to bottom.

Tkaid Yoshida
(Yoshida on the
Tkaid) from
the series Fugaku
sanj rokkei
(Thirty-six Views
of Mt. Fuji).
ban, between
1829 and 1833.
Yoshida was a
castle town on
the Tkaid Road
that offered a
fine vantage of
Mt. Fuji. A sign
reads Fuji-
Viewing teahouse.
Here travelers
could rest and
enjoy the scenery.

an eye on potential rivals and militated against the establishment of other centers of power. It had
the additional effect of greatly enriching the new administrative capital. As the great lords made
their way to the shogun, their attendants, along with artisans, merchants and entertainers, followed
them. New highways were built and way stations sprang up, where travelers could find rest, food
and company and the opportunity for amorous encounters. These country inns and settlements
figure prominently in the art of both Hokusai and Hiroshige, both of whose work include series
showing the stations on the Tkaid Road, the main highway from Kyoto to Edo. (Today the
bullet train from Tokyo to Kyoto, called the Tkaid Shinkasen, roughly follows the old Tkaid
Road. The journey that once required twenty days can now be completed in two and a half hours.)
It was out of this climate of increasing mercantile prestige, characterized by wealth and
urbanity, that ukiyo, the Floating World, arose. At first confined to the Yoshiwara quarter of Edo,
a kind of red light district frequented by courtesans, actors, the sons of prosperous merchants and
idle samurai, it soon spread to Kyoto and Osaka. Depictions of this new engagingly seductive life
style came to be known as ukiyo-e, paintings of the Floating World. Fortunately, the fledgling art
form found a genius able to realize its possibilities and expand its boundaries. This was Hishikawa
Moronobu, considered by some to be the founder of ukiyo-e. He is best known for his erotic japanese

prints (shunga, that is spring pictures), in which his powerful use of line provided a basis for
subsequent developments in the printmakers art.. He was also a masterful illustrator. His career
spanned most of the second half of the seventeenth century and established ukiyo-e as a vibrant
mode of portraying the newly emerging urban culture.
The days of the samurai, the feudal knights, were drawing to close, in a reaction to the up
heavals of Japans medieval period. The new merchant class aspired to its own virtues of industry and
steadiness, offset by a growing appetite for diversion and sexual entertainment. Actors and courtesans
became celebrities, a new aristocracy of sophisticated pleasure. To understand the Japanese and
their art, one must realize that their attitude toward sex is relatively untrammeled by the strictures
of Western religions. To the Japanese way of thinking Christianity offered an extremely unhealthy
attitude toward sex. The shunga tradition can only be appreciated if one keeps this in mind.
Originally the term ukiyo was a disparaging one suggesting the Buddhist conception that
the sensory world was ephemeral, lacking in real value. In time this negative connotation gave

Kikukawa Eizan. Shin yoshiwara giya zashiki no zu (View of Room in the Ogi House of New Yoshiwara).
Triptych, ban, c. 1809. The pleasure houses in the Yoshiwara district catered to samurai and merchants and followed
japanese elaborate rules of etiquette that included rankings of courtesans.

(Act Eleven of
the Chshingura)
from the series
jichidan tsuzuki
(The Eleven Acts
of Chshingura).
Chban, between
1815 and 1818.
This print shows
the final act of the
Chshingura in
which three ronin
samurai attack
the entrance to
Morons home
to take revenge
for the death
of their master.

way to a more appreciative stance, but it was never wholly effaced. This resulted in the melancholy
aspect that seems to underlie the work of the greatest ukiyo-e masters. In her introduction to
Hiroshige: Birds and Flowers, Cynthea Bogel quotes the opening lines of a popular Japanese novel
of the seventeenth century, Tales of the Floating World by Asai Ryi, that eloquently describes the
essential quality of the Floating World.

We live only for the moment, turning our thoughts to the moon, the snow, the cherry
blossoms, and maple leaves: singing, drinking, and diverting ourselves just in floating,
floating, unmoved by the prospect of imminent poverty, resisting sinking spirits, we are
buoyant, like a gourd floating along with the river: this is the floating world.

As aristocratic privilege gave way to a wider diffusion of wealth, artists found new patrons
among the mercantile class. This audience was less involved with the poetic and mythological
themes that dominated the art of earlier periods. They favored art that turned its focus to the
attractions of the world around them. Kabuki dancers and actors and beautifully dressed courte-
sans replaced the depictions of samurai warfare and Chinese legends. japanese

Interior of Kabuki
theater. 1765.
The walkway, called
the hanamichi,
that extends
into the theater
at the left of the
print was an
innovation of the
early eighteenth
century. The
artist, Kiyotsune,
was a member of
the Torii school,
which had a virtual
monopoly on
the billboards,
and prints
depicting kabuki

Furthering these trends was the spread of literacy. In feudal Japan education was reserved
for samurai and monks. The growing importance of commerce meant that merchants had to
acquire basic reading and mathematical skills. But this process once begun was not easily checked.
The eighteenth century witnessed the birth of a new breed of intellectuals, many from the bour-
geoisie, who produced important works in science, music and philosophy. The last proved the
most challenging to the existing power structure, questioning basic tenets of Confucianism that
provided divine sanction to the established order.
Another important result of the spread of literacy was the emergence of the popular novel.
This genre, called ukiyo-zshi, celebrated and helped define the culture of the floating world. It
also fostered ukiyo-e, since the most popular novels were illustrated and thus furnished employ-
ment to many of the finest artists of the day.
G.B. Sanson in A Short Cultural History of Japan, captures the flavor of this new social order.

This is the world of fugitive pleasures, of theaters and restaurants, wrestling booths and
houses of assignation, with their permanent population of actors, dancers, singers, story-
tellers, jesters, courtesans, bath-girls and itinerant purveyors, among whom mingled
japanese the profligate sons of rich merchants, dissolute samurai and naughty apprentices.

Bogel states the case differently, perceptively noting the dynamic relationship between
ukiyo-e and the society in which it flourished.

The ukiyo-e genre remained viable not because it depicted popular activities and figures,
but because it participated in creating the popular. As art these prints offered images
of the floating world, as cultural products, they also prefigured it.

The Genroku period (1688-1704) witnessed the first full flowering of these social trends.
In this and the succeeding Hei and Shtoku periods (lasting until 1716), great ukiyo-e masters
produced some of their finest work. Their roster includes Masanobu, Kiyonobu and Kiyomasu,
the latter two members of the Torii school, which specialized in depictions and promotions of the
kabuki theater, and the Kaigetsudo school, which set the standard for feminine beauty.
As the eighteenth century proceeded these trends continued. However, to pay for the
entertainments and luxury on offer Katsushika
in the growing urban centers such
Mother and
as Edo and Osaka, the aristocracy Daughter on an
Outing from the
found itself going ever more deeply
series Fry
in debt to the mercantile class. The nakute nanakuse
(Seven Fashionable
whole economic edifice rested upon
Bad Habits).
the productive labor of the peasantry, ban, 17971798.
The two women,
which began to buckle under the
identified as
weight. Sansom observes: Peasants mother and
daughter, are the
were often compared to seeds, like
embodiment of
sesame, which were pressed for their elegance and point
to the influence
oil, because the harder you press, the
of Utamaro on
more you squeeze out. The begin- Hokusais early
work .
nings of a money economy, with

currency replacing rice as the primary

medium of exchange, served to
exacerbate the situation. Meanwhile
the shogunate alternated between
repression and laxity, depending on
the character of the ruler. japanese

The eighth Tokugawa shogun, Yoshimune, whose accession
signaled the commencement of the Kyh period (17161736),
found the country teetering on bankruptcy. His solution was
to embark upon an austerity program that would recapture
the purity and spirit of self-sacrifice of an idealized past. His
condemnation of pleasure seeking was primarily directed to
the chnin. Extravagant displays of all kind were banned. One
edict forbade the publication of anything new or colorful. And
even though the chnin regularly flouted the governments
dictates, these had a chilling effect on the easygoing lifestyle of
the preceding eras and the artistic production that celebrated it.
A clear demarcation line in the development of ukiyo-e
and Japanese art overall occurred in the mid 1760s. In the space
of two years, color printing underwent a radical transformation.
In the first century of ukiyo-e, monochrome prints were the
general rule, sometimes enhanced by broad hand-colored
strokes of orange, green or yellow. In the early eighteenth
century printers began to experiment with color. A printer

would make a key block from an artists design and then
supply the printer with copies of the print on which he would specify the placement of color.
Secch aiaigasa
(Lovers under One proof sheet was reserved for each color, but a very limited number of colors were used. The
Umbrella in the
most impressive early results were achieved by Masanobu, who published his own prints and
Snow). Chban,
c. 1768. One of succeeded in solving registration problems that had detracted from the quality of the impressions.
Harunobus most
Rose colored prints (benizuri-e) and lacquer prints (urushi-e), in which glue (and sometimes
famous prints.
metallic flakes) was added for a lustrous effect, came into fashion. But it required the fortunate
combination of artistic genius and a circle of wealthy patrons to achieve the breakthrough in the
use of color that would permit the fullest flowering of ukiyo-e.
The artist who brought about this revolution was Suzuki Harunobu. Literary circles
consisting of wealthy merchants and samurai devoted to poetry began to engage in publishing
elaborate greeting cards to be circulated at New Year. Haronobus refined style was a perfect
match for this kind of decorous art, and he soon became the leading exponent of this genre. No
japanese expense was spared. More costly woods were used for the blocks and printers used as many blocks

as they needed to arrive at the desired colors. This new kind of
print was termed nishiki-e (brocade print).
One of Harunobus most important contributions was
to extend the artists gaze to facets of everyday life that had
been previously neglected. As Richard Lane notes in the semi-
nal work, Images from the Floating World: Thus ukiyo-e came
to deal more and more realistically with the everyday world,
rather than simply the pleasure quarter and the theater, which
were almost a world of make-believe.
Kabuki had suffered under the repressive measures of
the early eighteenth century and, like ukiyo-e, experienced
a revival in the 1760s. The next decades saw the golden age
of Kabuki theater. Its premier chronicler was Katsukawa
Shunsh, under whose tutelage Hokusai was to begin his
career. Shunsh brought an immediacy to his prints that had
been lacking in the earlier Torii masters. He portrayed in vivid
style the reigning stars of the Kabuki stage. This, combined
with his powerful coloration, earned him the publics accolades.
The late eighteenth century saw two further develop- Kitagawa
ments in ukiyo-e. The first was in landscape painting and prints. Though one finds occasional
Uzuki no
landscapes as early as the perspective prints of Moronobu, this was never a primary area of inter- hototogisu.
ban, c.1794.
est for ukiyo-e artists. The pioneer landscapist was Utagawa Toyoharu. His contribution was to
The print shows
fully incorporate Western ideas of perspective in Japanese art and to place the human figure in two women
looking up at a
the landscape. This innovation was an essential stepping stone to the fully mature work of both
cuckoo. Utamaros
Hokusai and Hiroshige. idealized women
shaped the
The other major development was in the area of figure studies. One could say that the 1790s
belonged to Kitagawa Utamaro. Utamaros elegant courtesans essentially defined the Japanese conception of
feminine beauty.
ideal of feminine beauty. Their subtly elongated forms are immediately identifiable, and
Utamaros delicate psychological portrayals remain unsurpassed in Japanese art and rival those
of the greatest Western artists. Utamaros prints represent a high water mark in the ukiyo-e
tradition. His great successors, Hokusai and Hiroshige, found other arena in which to display
their creative powers. japanese

From the age of five I have had a mania for
sketching the forms of things. From about the age of fifty I

produced a number of designs, yet of all I drew prior to the

age of seventy there is truly nothing of any great note. At the

age of seventy-two I finally apprehended something of the true

quality of birds, animals, insects, fish and of the vital nature of

grasses and trees. Therefore, at eighty I shall have made some

progress, at ninety I shall have penetrated even further the

deeper meaning of things, at one hundred I shall have become

truly marvelous, and at one hundred and ten, each dot, each line

shall surely possess a life of its own. I only beg that gentlemen

of sufficiently long life take care to note the truth of my words.


Gokuin Senemon to okuri no onna (Gokuin Senemon) from the series Karigane gonin otoko (Five men of Karigane).
Surimono, c. 1801. Two actors in a kabuki play, one as a woman with a paper lantern standing next to Gokuin Senemon,
one of the Five Chivalrous Men, a gang of outlaws who were executed in 1702. Their exploits provided the basis for
many Kabuki plays. Over time they became identified as folk heroes.


F or a Western audience the name Hokusai is practically synonymous with ukiyo-e
and the Japanese print tradition. His best-known works, such as Under the Wave at
Kanagawa from his series Thirty-six Views of Mt. Fuji, have become cultural icons. An astonish-
ingly prolific artist, his career spanned six decades. In the dictionary of ukiyo-e included in
Images from the Floating World, the author Richard Lane attributes to Hokusai 141 series of
prints, 264 illustrated books, 16 albums of erotic art and an uncounted number of sketches and
paintings. When one considers that many of his series comprise numerous works (e.g. The Fifty-
three Stations of the Tkaid, Thirty-six Views of Mt. Fuji, and his last major undertaking, One
Hundred Views of Mt. Fuji), the sheer volume of his creative output seems staggering indeed.
Over the course of his career Hokusai signed his works with many different pen names.
This was a common practice among Japanese artists, but none come even close to Hokusai.
(Lane lists 32 principal names.) He would assume one name for a period of time and then
abandon it and assume a new one. In some cases the assumption of a new name announced
a new departure in his career. As such, his signatures have proved very useful in developing a
chronology of his work. He used the name Hokusai from 1797 until 1818. He added the name
Katsushika in 1805, which was to become the name of the school he founded. It is under this
name, Katsushika Hokusai, that he is generally known.
Hokusai was born in 1760 in the Honjo quarter on the outskirts of Edo. He displayed
an interest in drawing and the fine arts as a young boy. He is recorded as being part of the
household of a well-to-do artisan family of Nakajima but was never made an heir, which sug-
gests that he may have been the son of a concubine.
At the age of 18 he became a pupil of Katsukawa Shunsh, whose studio, as we have seen,
specialized in portraits of the stars of Kabuki theater. Shunsh was one of the most celebrated
artists of his day. Hokusai worked in relative obscurity for much of the 1780s, collaborating on
the theatrical prints that were the bread and butter of Shunshs studio. But even at this early japanese

Matsukaze. stage of his career he was looking for
Surinomo with
other avenues of expression, turning
poetry. c. 1800.
Matsukaze is his hand to a wide variety of subjects:
the name of
sumo wrestlers, picturesque views
the heroine of a
famous n play of of Edo and works in the Chinese
the same name.
manner. In 1791 he received his first
She and her sister
Murasame are independent commission and rather
spirits who linger
abruptly abandoned the genre of
on earth mourning
a lost love. theatrical portraiture.
Hokusai soon found fairly
steady employment as a book illus-
trator. This was a time when the
literary appetites of a growing middle
class led to a rapid growth in the
book publishing industry. There was
a vogue for novels, light semi-comic
fiction that sometimes fell afoul with
the censors for its veiled criticism of
the established powers. Illustrations
were an integral part of the stories,
much like the graphic novels of our day. Hokusai wrote a few of these himself under different
names, though the bulk of his efforts were strictly as illustrator.
In 1792 Hokusai formally withdrew from Shunshs studio, an event that coincided with
the death of the master. Over the next two years he studied with different teachers but did not
form a close allegiance to any of them. This was a transitional period for the young artist. At
around this time his wife died, and he was left to care for a young son and two daughters.
It did not take long, however, for Hokusai to become a well known artist. He was able
to take advantage of improvements in the process of color printing that permitted the use of
a much wider range of colors than had been seen before, as witnessed in the work of his older
contemporaries, such as Masanobu and Utamaro. By the late 1790s Hokusai was contributing
illustrations to collections of kyka, a verse form then in vogue. He also began receiving orders for
japanese surimono. In his study of the subject Roger Keyes succinctly describes the term:

Surimono are a type of privately published woodblock print, usually colored, that was
especially popular in Japan during the first third of the nineteenth century. Some suri-
mono were distributed as announcements of musical performances or to commemorate
personal events. Most, however, were commissioned by poets as gifts for their friends
to celebrate the return of spring and the renewal of life and human activity at the
beginning of the year.

His commissions for these costly works are clear indications of his growing reputation.
Other characteristic works of this period were paintings on silk and paper of courtesans. As
we have seen, courtesan portraits were a favorite subject for ukiyo-e artists. Hokusais works could
not rival the exquisite beauty of Utamaros women, but they are remarkable character studies and
bear the hallmarks of his emerging genius. His depictions show his restless experimentation with
new styles. In addition to meticulously detailed portraits that vividly render the subtlety of skin
tones and the elaborately decorated kimonos, his gouache portraits on paper have an economy of
line that seems to convey fleeting moments in the lives of these women.

Three women
bearing the
attributes of
the traditional
Sambas dance
(bells, fan and hat).
Triptych, painted
on paper, c. 1800.
The Sambas
dance was a
regular part of n
and then kabuki
theater. Originally
performed to
ensure good
harvests, it came
to augur general
good fortune and
was incorpoarted
into the geishas


He also had the opportunity to study with Takei Kkan, a pioneer in bringing Western
ideas of art to the Japanese elite, as well as availing himself of the advances made by Toyoharu.
Although Japan still remained cut off from the rest of the world, some European art had made
its way through the Dutch settlement on Nagasaki. Prior to its exposure to Western painting
Japanese artists used perspective in a contextual, rather than optical manner. Scroll painting,
which was by necessity vertically oriented and usually quite narrow, followed certain conventions

Date Yosaku
Seki no Koman.
Chban, c. 1798.
Lovers Date
Yosaku and Seki
no Koman seated
on a teahouse
bench from a series
depicting famous
loving couples


whereby forms at the bottom of the scroll were considered foreground, and objects at its top
were seen as farther away. Often, much as in medieval European art, the size of a figure or object
depended upon its importance in the overall scheme of the work. Hokusai closely studied Western
perspective and learned the technique of copper engraving.
In 1797 he adopted the pen name, Hokusai, under which he was to become known, a step
that provides art historians with a convenient marker for his emergence as a mature artist with
his own inimitable style. He also remarried in the same year.
Much of Hokusais print work in the first decade of the nineteenth century was designed for
inexpensive mass-produced editions. It was not until some time later that the market for prints with
high production values was strong enough to encourage the publication of such expensive works. At
the other extreme were the privately printed surimono, for which Hokusai received many commissions.
It was at this time that Hokusai began to develop his skills as a landscapist. It was Hokusais
achievement to fully integrate the human figure into the landscape of which it was a part. This
innovation is one of Hokusais most important contributions to Japanese art. It is hard to imagine
Hiroshiges prints without the groundbreaking work of Hokusai. A fine example of his early land-
scape work can be seen in his album Ehon Sumidagawa rygan ichiran (Views of Both Banks of the
Sumida River).

From Sumidagawa rygan ichiran (Views of Both Banks of the Sumida River). Published in 3 volumes, 1805.
The Sumida River runs through Tokyo. In this early attempt at depicting figures within a landscape, Hokusai is just
beginning to adapt Western ideas of perspective to the conceptual framework of the Japanese print.

An impetus for his concentration on landscapes was the publication in 1802 of a wildly
successful novel, Tkaidch Hizakuruige, a comic tale about two rascals and their adventures on
the Tkaid road. This provided the inspiration for Hokusais Fifty-three Stations of the Tkaid,
which appeared right about this time. A number of other series of landscapes followed, including
Eight Views of Lake Biwa and a number of western-styled landscapes.
In 1804 Hokusai gave a public performance before an astonished crowd of onlookers by draw-
ing a bust of Daruma, the first patriarch of Zen Buddhism, on a vast scale. Using a bamboo brush

Karasaki no yau dipped into a tub of ink, he covered

(Evening Rain at approximately 350 square yards of
Karasaki). From
the series Shinpan paper and then hung it on display.
mi hakkei This gigantic work and the public
(New Edition of
the Eight Views manner in which it was drawn only
of Lake Biwa). furthered his reputation.
Chban, c. 1804.
This beautiful lake Book illustration took up
figures in many most of his time. During the cen-
Japanese prints
and had well- turys first decade he collaborated
known literary on over 75 books. He illustrated a
and legendary
associations. multi-volume edition of a Chinese
historical volume that eventually
required nearly 300 illustrations,
as well as fiction by celebrated
authors such as Bakin and Shigeru.
These assignments led Hokusai
back to Chinese models. His fig-
ures assumed greater strength, and
his compositions became more dramatic as he tackled mythological and legendary themes. A fine
example of this new direction is his series of prints that tell the story of Chushingura, the classic
Japanese drama written by the great Japanese playwright Chikamatsu. Chushingura relates the
exploits of the 47 ronin (masterless samurai) who avenge their dead lord.
Now in his fifties, Hokusai had become the most highly regarded Japanese artist of his day.
He was respectfully addressed as the Old Master. Despite this he experienced some financial hard
japanese ships. His son died in 1812. Not only was this a great personal loss, but it was also a financial

setback. Taken under the wings of a wealthy family, Jnidanme
(Act Twelve of
Hokusais son had been able to obtain a generous
the Kanadehon
stipend for this father. When this dried up, the art- Chshingura).
Koban, between
ist sought out students and patronage. He created a
1804 and 1812.
number of sketchbooks (manga) as teaching devices. This print shows
the night attack
They are filled with seemingly endless drawings of
on the villa and
persons and everyday objects. Of particular interest the capture of
Moron (Kira).
is A Rapid Manual of Abbreviated Drawing, which
This scene is from
he wrote at this time. Here, Hokusai demonstrates act twelve of the
play Chshingura
his whimsical sense of humor, poking fun at imagi-
(Revenge of the 47
nary rivals: Rnin). c. 1804.

Liking the pretentious style of Hemamusho

Nyd, the painter Yamamizu Tengu of
Noshikoshiyama adopted the incomprehensible style of his drawings. Now I who have
studied this style for almost a hundred years, and understanding it no more than he
does, have found, nevertheless, that the following curious thing has arisen, in which I
have observed that my people, my animals, my insects and fish seem to be fleeing from
the paper. Is this not really rather extraordinary?
Fortunately the engraver Kokizumi, a skilled cutter
of wood, took it upon himself with his finely sharp-
ened knife, to cut the veins and nerves of the creatures
I have drawn to deprive them of their freedom to get
away. This little volume, I can affirm, will remain a
precious gem for all posterity, and those people into
whose hands it falls ought to be able to study it with
that certainty.

Hokusais manga met with the great success. The

Page from Hokusais first manga book, which was published in

first volume went through six printings and nine more
1814. Filled with spontaneous and sometimes grotesque drawings volumes followed. Much of this decade was devoted to
with a decided humorous cast, the manga books functioned as
practical handbooks for the study of art techniques and inspired
the publication of these sketch books and the exploration
the current comic book genre that bears their name. of different drawing techniques. One of his better known japanese

efforts was entitled Drawing with One Brushstroke, compositions in which the artists brush never
leaves the paper. His rendering of animals and birds display the absolute confidence of a master.
Ones sixtieth birthday is an especially important landmark in Japan, since it marks the
completion of the zodiac cycle. On this occasion Hokusai assumed a new name, Iitsu, loosely
translated as one year old again. The name change ushered in a abrupt shift in direction. It
was under this name that he was to sign some of his most celebrated works. The artist evinced a
renewed interest in landscapes. It seems, at least to this viewer, that Hokusais voluminous corpus
of sketches and drawings, which had consumed most of his energy over the past decade, was a
profound exploration of the use of line and the act of drawing. Now he was ready to return to
more ambitious work, having fully incorporated the lessons he had mastered.
The masterpiece that ensued, Thirty-six Views of Mt. Fuji, is Hokusais best known work. As
Richard Lane observes: This series was an entirely new revelation in ukiyo-e and included some
of the true masterworks of Hokusais career. Among them he lists Fine Wind, Clear Morning,
Thunderstorm beneath Summit and Under the Wave at Kanagawa. One might also add Nakahara in

Ashikaga Gydzan kumo no kakehashi (Cloud Hanging Bridge at Mt. Gyd, Ashikaga) from the series Shokoku
meiky kiran (Rare Views of Famous Japanese Bridges). ban, 18311832. The series consists of eleven prints. Some
japanese of these, including the bridge pictured here, are purely imaginary places.

Ssh Nakahara
(Nakahara in
Sagami Province)
from the series
Fugaku sanj
rokkei (Thirty-six
Views of Mt. Fuji).
ban, between
1829 and 1833.
Six travelers
walk along a
country road.
One seems rapt
in contemplation
of Mt. Fuji, the
others are caught
up in their own
pursuits as if the
mountain were
not there.

Sagami Province, Ejiri in Suruga Province and Yoshida on the Tkaid, in which the artist explores
the dichotomy between people engaged in their everyday activities and the variegated natural
forms that provide the backdrop for their pursuits. Behind all of these different moods and condi-
tions is the unchanging presence of Fuji, the sacred mountain.
Early in the 1820s Hokusai had issued a number of lovely surimono, including an important
series of 36 prints to accompany poems inspired by seashells and some lovely still lifes and nature
studies. It is clear that he benefited from advances in printing processes, which greatly enhanced
the vibrancy of his palette. Yet his dissatisfaction with what he had been able to achieve continued
to drive his search for a definitive expression of his lifetime dedication to his art. Seen from this
vantage, his series Thirty-six Views of Mt. Fuji can be considered the culmination of his lifes work.
The first ten prints from the series appeared in 1830 and another ten the following year. By
1834 another twenty-six prints had been added, so that although entitled Thirty-six Views, the
series comprised forty-six prints in total. The ever-present Mt. Fuji connects each of these prints,
whether the mountain figures as the prime character in the print or as a seeming afterthought
located in an upper corner.
In 1828 Hokusais second wife died. Now 68 years old and in poor health, he gratefully ac-
cepted the return of his daughter O-Ei, who happened to be one of his best pupils, into his japanese

Kiky ni tombo
and Dragonfly)
from a series
of ten bird and
flower prints.
ban, c. 1832.
of flowers are
botanically accurate
renderings. Such
designs had a long
history in Japanese
and Chinese art,
but Hokusai was
the first ukiyo-e
artist to turn his
hand to them.

Group of Roosters
and Hens.
Fan print. 1835.
A clear display
of technical
virtuosity. The
dynamic grouping
of the birds creates
a vortex of energy.
The human
expressions on
the birds faces
are of especial


household. She was to remain Warai hannya
(Laughing Demon
with him until his death. A series
of Jealousy) from
of five prints completed around the series Hyaku
monogatari (One
this time, displays a different side
Hundred Ghost
of the artist. The series entitled Tales). Chban,
c. 1830. Hannya
Hyaku monogatari (100 Ghost
is the demon of
Tales) shows a definite taste for female jealousy, a
character from n
the macabre. A representative
and kabuki theater.
work, The Ghost of O-Iwa, features

the heroine of a well-known

Kabuki drama. Murdered by her
husband (in some versions by
her husband's father), she returns
from the grave to avenge herself.
Another print represents the hid-
eous Warai Hannya, the female
demon of jealousy.
Just as he was completing
his Thirty-six Views, a new talent
captured the attention of the Japanese public. In 1833, Utagawa Hiroshige, who was half Hokusais
age, published his first major work: Fifty-three Stations of the Tkaid. The old master, seeing his
preeminent position threatened, engaged in one last burst of creativity that resulted in Pictures of
One Hundred Poems by One Hundred Poets as Seen by the Nurse and illustrations for a three volume
work entitled, 100 Views of Mt. Fuji.
The publication of both works was interrupted in the middle of the decade by a financial
crisis in Japan that forced Hokusais longtime publisher, Nishimuraya Yohachi, into bankruptcy.
Consequently, the publication of the third volume of 100 Views was postponed until 1840. This
work combines Hokusais illustrations with a collection of poems dedicated to the mountain. One
of the most famous of these is Dragon Ascending to Heaven past Mt. Fuji. The art historian, Matti
Forrer draws particular attention to the importance the figure of the dragon played throughout
Hokusais career. It is hard not to read its ascent of Fuji as in some way symbolizing the artists
own striving to reach the most exalted summit of his art. japanese

One Hundred Poems by One Hundred Poets is the most famous of all Japanese verse antholo-
gies. It was compiled by the poet Fujiwara no Teika in the thirteenth century and became a literary
touchstone. In his study of Hokusais series of illustrations for this work, Peter Morse compares its
status in Japanese culture to that of Aesops Fables in the West. It became the common property of
the Japanese people. In approaching this revered literary monument, Hokusai makes use of a comic
persona, the nurse, a simple person far from the milieu of courtly refinement that gave rise to the
original poems. This allows Hokusai to reflect on the poetry from different vantages. Some of his
illustrations are fairly literal transcriptions of the poetry; some misread the originals for comic effect;

Utagawa Hiroshige. Hakone, kosui (Lake at Hakone) from the series Tkaid gojsantsugi no uchi (Fifty-
three Stations of the Tkaid Road). ban, between 1833 and 1836. The way through the Hakone Pass was the most
difficult stretch of the Tkaid Road to traverse. In this print Hiroshige pays special attention to the various shapes of
japanese mountains. Walkers can be seen at the lower right struggling up the steep incline.

Ascending to
Heaven past
Mt. Fuji. Painting
on silk. 1849.
The dragon was an
auspicious emblem
for Hokusai,
considered a
symbol of both
water and sky,
and a divine

some go much farther afield, having only the most tenuous connection to the original. Hokusai was
not able to fully complete the project. Only 27 subjects are illustrated in color; his drawings exist for
an additional 53 poems.
Hokusai executed very few prints after these heroic achievements. He devoted his last years
to painting. Forrer suggests that he had removed himself to the country to get away from his
creditors. He completed a number paintings on silk, meant for wealthy patrons, as well as some
on paper. Though they bear many of the characteristics of the Hokusai style, they also betray a
weakness in the aged artists brushstrokes. Hokusai died in 1849 at the age of ninety. japanese

Sarumaru Day. (The Poet Sarumaru Day) ) from the series Hyakunin isshu uba ka etoki (One Hundred Poems
by One Hundred Poets as Seen by the Nurse). ban, c. 1839.
The poet Sarumaru is associated with the Emperor Genmy, who reigned in the early eighth century. The poem reads
as follows: In the mountain depths/Treading through the crimson leaves/Cries the wandering stag./When I hear the lonely
cry/Sad,how sadthe autumn is! The predominant red tone of the painting alludes to the crimson (maple) leaves
in the second line of the poem. At the top left of the print the stag and his mate stand on a hill. Two women in the
foreground turn to hear its lonely cry.


Minamoto no Muneyuki Ason (The Poet Minamoto no Muneyuki Ason) from the series Hyakunin isshu uba ka
etoki (One Hundred Poems by One Hundred Poets as Seen by the Nurse). ban, c. 1839.
One of the best-known prints in the series. The poem reads: Winter loneliness/In a mountain hamlet grows/Only deeper
when/Guests are gone and leaves and grass/Withered are;so runs my thought.


Mikawa no Yatsuhashi no kozu (View of Yatsuhashi Bridge in Mikawa Province). ban c.1831 from Shokuku
meiky kiran (Rare Views of Famous Bridges in All the Provinces). This bridge figures in a well-known medieval
Japanese story, Tales of Ise.


Thirty-Six Views of Mt. Fuji
at the age of 69 Hokusai embarked upon a project that would ensure his lasting fame. From

the beginning of the nineteenth century Hokusai and other ukiyo-e artists had begun to produce

landscape prints, but these were rather tentative efforts. The Thirty-six Views of Mt. Fuji was the

first major attempt to fully explore the possibilities of this genre.

Mt. Fuji is the highest mountain in Japan. It stands alone, rising to a height of over 12,000

feet, about 60 miles from Tokyo and can be seen from afar in every direction. It had long been

considered a sacred mountain, and Hokusai may well have been among its devotees. Its presence,

whether front and center as in in Rainstorm beneath the Summit or Fine Wind, Clear Morning or

as a seeming afterthought in prints such as Fields in Owari Province, suggests the fragility of the

human enterprise within the contours of the natural world.

Though advertised for a popular audience the prints were not inexpensive. A distinctive

factor is the artists use of Prussian blue, called berorin in Japanese. Of the forty-six prints that

make up the series, all but ten are done in blue outline.

The plates are neither numbered nor dated. We have followed the order in The Dictionary

of Ukiyo-e in Lanes Images from the Floating World.


Kanagawa-oki namiura (Under the Wave at Kanagawa).
This is the best-known and most dramatic composition in the series, contrasting the inordinate
power of nature with the valiant attempt of the boatmen to keep their craft afloat.

Gaif kaisei (Fine Wind, Clear Morning; also known as Red Fuji).
In dazzling contrast to the succeeding print, Mt. Fuji is shown in a benign aspect.
Its red color was linked to dawns light.

Sanka hakuu (Thunderstorm beneath Summit).
Considered one of the supreme expressions of Hokusais art, the viewers eye is drawn to the lightning flash
on the mountain slope. With a few deft strokes the artist juxtaposes the storms intensity with the mountains
summit that stands serene against the graduated blue of the sky, produced by the technique of bokashi.

Fukagawa Mannenbashi shita (Below Mannen Bridge at Fukagawa).
We come down to earth with this print. The emphasis is on the harmonious forms of human industry.


Tto Sundai (Surugadai in Edo).
This print explores a motif that will underlie most of the prints in this series: the relationship
between human actors and the natural world. The rooftops of the two houses seen in the foreground
seem to be as much a part of that world as the distant Fuji.

Aoyama Enza no Matsu (The Cushion Pine at Aoyama).
The spreading pine tree, called the cushion pine was located in the precincts of a Zen temple.


Bush Senju (Senju in Musashi Province).
Laboring along a road in the northern suburbs of Edo, a horseman turns to look out at Fujis distant peak,
allowing his aged mount a moments rest.


Bush Tamagawa (The Tama River in Musashi Province).
The Tama is one of the major rivers of Tokyo (along with the Sumida). Setting aside the dictates of Western perspective,
Hokusai chooses to emphasize the ferryman at the expense of the horse and rider at the bottom of the print.


Ksh Inume toge (Inume Pass in Kai Province).
Inume Pass is above the Tama River (shown on page 45). Here the heavily laden travelers
seem indifferent to the imposing stature of the distant mountain.


Bish Fujimigahara (Fields in Owari Province).
This print clearly expresses Hokusais fondness for geometric forms. He slyly provides a glimpse of Fuji
through the window-like opening of a huge tub that the cooper is constructing.


Tto Asakusa Honganji (Honganji Temple at Asakusa in Edo).
The district of Asakusa was in the heart of Edo. The Honganji Temple was one of its most familiar landmarks.
The print focuses on the elegant lines and design of its sharply pitched roof. One needs to look closely to see three
workers completing somewhat precarious repairs.

Buy Tsukuda-jima (Tsukuda Island in Musashi Province).
Tsukuda Island was located at the mouth of the Sumida River. The island itself seems dwarfed
by the outsized fishing boats that occupy the foreground.


Ssh Umezawa-zai (Shichiri Beach in Suruga Province).
Shichiri Beach on the east side of Edo Bay was frequented by Edos inhabitants. In this print, however,
the beach is deserted. We are looking out at the water and Mt. Fuji from a promontory rising above the shore.