Simanaitis Says

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MY FAVORITE MANGA has no zombies, no mutants, nor other creepy stuff. I mean this genre in its traditional sense, a wonderful depiction of an earlier era in Japan. Hokusai, a 19th-century artist, is one of its masters.

Today’s kids are familiar with modern manga story-telling through pictures. This latter-day manga has earned its own shelves in mass market books stores and a Hardcover Graphic Books category in The New York Times Book Review.


An array of manga from Waterstones Books.

However, the Japanese word manga means “cartoon” in the original sense: an artist’s sketch, perhaps made as preliminary to another work. Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo and other Renaissance artists produced cartoons. So did Japanese woodblock artists of the 19th century.


Katsushika Hokusai, c. 1760–1849, Japanese artist and printmaker. Self portrait,1839.

Hokusai is one of the masters of ukiyo-e, literally pictures of a floating world [I had “fleeting” until corrected by kind reader Andrew Dewar. Alas, it’s my knowledge of Japanese that’s apparently fleeting.] Ukiyo-e is an art form that flourished during the Edo period in Japan, 1603–1868. Among his masterpieces is a series titled Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji, published in several editions during and after his life. Some of these woodblock prints are monochrome, solely in black and several shades of gray. Others are in full color.

Another master of the genre was Utagawa Hiroshige, 1797–1858, who published series of The Fifty-three Stations of the Tōkaidō and The Sixty-nine Stations of the Kiso Kaidō. Hokusai’s most famous work is probably The Great Wave off Kanazawa. Like others in the series, it features Mount Fuji, but its theme is a trio of fishing boats tossed by a giant wave.


The Great Wave off Kanagawa, by Hokusai, first published between 1826 and 1833.

The image above, appearing at Wikipedia, is from a later edition. It is identified as restored, cropped and rotated, with smudges, dirt and stains removed and creases eliminated.


The two Hokusai prints that follow are published by the Takamizawa Institute of Wood-Block Prints.

Hokusai returned often to this theme of Mount Fuji, with his series of 36 views followed by another of 46 and a later one of The Hundred Views of Mount Fuji. One of the images in this last series is Mount Fuji on the Sea. This mirror image of another giant wave is without boats, with a flock of sea birds suggesting the ocean’s fury.


Mount Fuji on the Sea, by Hokusai.

Like other ukiyo-e prints, many of Hokusai’s are more than pure landscapes. In the print below, Daishakuji Temple is the headquarters of the Nichiren school of Buddhism, in Fujinomiya, Shizuoka Prefecture, about 85 miles southwest of Tokyo.


Mount Fuji Seen Among Grove of Daishakuji Temple, by Hokusai.

As the term ukiyo-e suggests, this Hokusai masterpiece is another glimpse of a floating Edo world. ds

© Dennis Simanaitis,, 2016


  1. kkollwitz
    October 15, 2016

    In 1976 I bumped into Hokusai’s 36, and Hiro’s 53 while browsing the Architecture College library. IIRC, one of them showed a slightly curved horizon in one scene- the Earth is round, after all.

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