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The Great Wave by Hokusai

Hokusai settled on landscaping painting when he was about 38 years old, apparently much inspired by engravings brought in by the Dutch. He was greatly interested in the examples of Western art that filtered into Japan through the Dutch trading establishments in Nagasaki. Hokusai had been creating prints for many decades, but his early works were largely works with people.

From this point in middle age, he avidly observed and sketched everything in the world around him publishing a twelve-volume series known as the Hokusai Manga (sketchbooks) starting in 1814.

Each woodblock print required the collaboration of four experts, the designer (artist), the engraver, the printer, and the publisher. Woodblock prints were not seen as art but rather conceived and issued as a commercial printing by the publisher, who was often also a bookseller. Many thousands were printed and each one sold quite cheaply it costs just a bit more to buy a double-helping of Soba noodles in Edo (today’s Tokyo).

By the time Thirty-Six Views of Mount Fuji was issued around 1831, Hokusai was over seventy years old and shows remarkable energy during his advanced years. He was then doing his best work. In addition to The Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji, he also put out other series of landscape prints. Even after reaching the age of eighty, he was busy producing many fine prints.

He often expressed his desire to live beyond the age of ninety, and just before he died on April 18, 1849 at the age of 89, he sighed and said his last words: “If heaven gives me ten more years,”, paused, then continued, “or an extension of even five years, I shall surely become a true artist.”

He was the only Japanese who was chosen in Life Magazine’s “The 100 People who Made the Millennium” in 1999 issue.