8 Facts About Hokusai

Throughout Japan and around the world, everyone knows the delicate art of Hokusai

By Google Arts & Culture

冨嶽三十六景 甲州石班沢|Kajikazawa in Kai Province (Kōshū Kajikazawa), from the series Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji (Fugaku sanjūrokkei) (ca. 1830–32) by Katsushika HokusaiThe Metropolitan Museum of Art

Hokusai had over 30 names

Katsushika Hokusai was born in Edo, modern-day Tokyo, in 1760. As was tradition at the time, he had numerous names throughout his life. At birth he was known as Tokitarō. In fact, throughout his life he used over 30 names, far more than usual. Hokusai is just the most famous

冨嶽三十六景 駿州江尻|Ejiri in Suruga Province (Sunshū Ejiri), from the series Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji (Fugaku sanjūrokkei) (ca. 1830–32) by Katsushika HokusaiThe Metropolitan Museum of Art

He worked as a publisher

He began publishing at an early age. At 12 he began working in a bookshop and library. At 18 he entered the art studio of Katsukawa Shunshō. Shunshō was an artist of ukiyo-e, a popular style of woodblock print usually depicting famous actors and courtesans of the day.

冨嶽三十六景 五百らかん寺さざゐどう|Sazai Hall at the Temple of the Five Hundred Arhats (Gohyaku Rakanji Sazaidō), from the series Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji (Fugaku sanjūrokkei) (ca. 1830–32) by Katsushika HokusaiThe Metropolitan Museum of Art

He made his big break under the name of Shunrō

His first pen name was Shunrō. Under this name he made a collection of prints of Kabuki actors. Upon the death of Shunshō in 1793, Hokusai began exploring other styles of art, including European styles he was exposed to through French and Dutch copper engravings.

諸國名橋奇覧 飛越の堺つりはし|The Suspension Bridge on the Border of Hida and Etchū Provinces (Hietsu no sakai tsuribashi), from the series Remarkable Views of Bridges in Various Provinces (Shokoku meikyō kiran) (ca. 1830) by Katsushika HokusaiThe Metropolitan Museum of Art

His most famous work was his largest

During a festival in 1804 he used buckets of ink to paint an enormous 180 metre long scroll with a portrait of the monk Daruma, the founder of Zen Buddhism. For many years after, peope throughout Japan would know Hokusai for this single artwork.

Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji: The Great Wave off Kanagawa (1830/1832) by Katsushika HokusaiTokyo Fuji Art Museum

But now most people know him for a different reason

Today Hokusai is perhaps best known across the world for his book 36 views of Mount Fuji. And the most famous print of all, The Great Wave, has become a symbol of Japan itself.

冨嶽三十六景 凱風快晴|South Wind, Clear Sky (Gaifū kaisei), also known as Red Fuji, from the series Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji (Fugaku sanjūrokkei) (ca. 1830–32) by Katsushika HokusaiThe Metropolitan Museum of Art

His name and Mount Fuji relate to his Buddhist beliefs

Hokusai means 'North Studio' and is an abbreviation of Hokushinsai or 'North Star Studio'. Hokusai was a member of the Nichiren sect of Buddhism, who see the North Star as associated with the deity Myōken. Mount Fuji has traditionally been linked with eternal life.

(Denshin kaishu) Hokusai manga (1814 (Bunka 11) - 1878 (Meiji 11)) by Artist: Katsushika Hokusai, Publisher: Publisher unspecified Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery

He became a manga artist

At the age of 51, he once again changed his name, this time to Taito, and started making drawing manuals. At the time, these simple books of caricatures and quick sketches were known as manga, which later became the word used for Japanese comics.

冨嶽三十六景 駿州大野新田|The New Fields at Ōno in Suruga Province (Sunshū Ōno shinden), from the series Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji (Fugaku sanjūrokkei) (ca. 1830–32) by Katsushika HokusaiThe Metropolitan Museum of Art

He trained a generation

Over his life he trained around 50 students in the art of woodblock cutting. His youngest daughter Ei, also known as Katsushika Ōi, worked closely with him, eventually becoming an accomplished artist in her own right.

Gustav Klimt with his cat in front of his studio in the Josefstädter Straße 21 in Vienna (1911) by Moriz NährBelvedere

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