Hokusai Japans Most Famous Artist And His Print You know So Well

The popular Japanese artist Katsushika Hokusai is responsible for one of the most well-known artworks known as “The Great Wave.” The Great Wave has been an iconic piece of Japanese artwork for centuries and inspires artists across the world.

The symbolism of the Great Wave Off Kanagawa

Sumida Hokusai Museum

The Great Wave off Kanawaga, often more commonly known as The Great Wave, is one of the world’s most well-known works of Japanese art. The wave is ready to crash against the boats like a huge monster, one that appears to represent both nature’s unstoppable might and humanity’s vulnerability.

The Great Wave is a piece from Hokusai’s “Thirty-Six Views of Mount Fuji.” This is a famous woodblock series that showcases thirty-six views of one of Japan’s most symbolic artwork.

These woodblock pieces have become some of the most important pieces of art in Japan and also the Western world. 

 Animatronic figures Katsushika Hokusai and his daughter Oei at Sumida Hokusai Museum in Tokyo

Hokusai’s The Great Wave has made a global impact, with its enchanting dark blue colors and riveting emotions it evokes. Since its creation, this work has been inspiring artists like Vincent Van Gogh to follow their artistic passions. 

Who was Katsushika Hokusai? 

Katsushika Hokusai, (葛飾 北斎 October 31, 1760-May 10 1849) known simply as Hokusai, was a Japanese artist, ukiyo-e painter and woodblock printmaker of the Edo period.

Katsushika Hokusai was a popular Japanese ukiyo-e artist from the Edo period who produced the world’s most popular woodblock piece, ‘Thirty-Six Views of Mount Fuji.’ This incredible artwork included the popular piece, ‘The Great Wave off Kanagawa,’ known for its dark blue waves and stormy seas.

Sumida Hokusai Museum dedicated to the artist Katsushika Hokusai

According to records, Hokusai is said to be born in the Edo period on October 31, 1760. Unfortunately, this date is only estimated because Hokusai did not keep track of his birthdate. It is not confirmed whether October 31 was his birthday either, or if he chose that day. 

Sumida Hokusai Museum Official Website

The Sumida Hokusai Museum in Tokyo

Sumida Hokusai Museum Location Via Google Maps

Hokusai was born in Tokyo with a love for the outdoors. He represented his passion for the environment in his many woodblock prints involving nature and the waves of the sea.

Hokusai was a major inspiration to many future artists.

The history of Katsushika Hokusai

Hokusai was a Japanese artist from the Edo period deeply inspired by the natural landscapes. Most of his work centered around the ocean, with waves and beautiful views of the ocean or other bodies of water. 

Katsushika Hokusai was appreciative of the landscape, though he preferred to move around. That is why he often produced raw art that rarely looked the same. His “Thirty-Six Views” are quite symbolic of his constantly moving lifestyle, gathering the thirty-six views from multiple locations rather than just his imagination.

 Hokusai Museum interior with an interactive display

He produced art throughout his life. If not as a job, rather as a hobby. When Katsushika Hokusai initially produced the Great Wave, it was not a popular piece of artwork internationally. This is because foreign trade import and export restrictions by the Japanese government disallowed international trade. 

By the time export laws were lifted, his pieces became immediate bestsellers. Westerners and Europeans became fascinated with Hokusai’s work. They bought pieces in the dozens as he was immediately recognized for his talent.

Throughout his lifetime, it is said that Hokusai is supposed to have created over 30,000 works of art. Unfortunately, his studio burnt down, including a large portion of his works. The work that survives today is either replicated work or original work that had been sold through art dealers.

His artwork was later considered Japonism, and he is recognized today as the leading artist who influenced Europe’s Impressionist movement. 

What is Katsushika Hokusai’s most famous art series?

Hokusai has many popular art pieces, like The Great Wave of Kanagawa, more commonly referred to as The Great Wave. But, this art piece is part of a larger woodblock series called, “Thirty-Six Views of Mount Fuji.”

This series showcases various sets of waves, which taunts Hokusai’s admiration for natural oceanic landscapes with the fear of becoming conquered by the sea. 

Other popular woodblock work produced by Hokusai includes his series, “Thirty-Six Views of Mount Fuji.” Inside this renowned series is the “The Great Wave of Kanagawa” and various other pieces that involve waves, with the beautiful Mount Fuji in the background.

Mount Fuji is one of the iconic symbols of Japan. Perhaps without even thinking, Hokusai used its natural beauty to create some of the most magnificent pieces ever created.

Hokusai has several other popular series, such as Oceans of Wisdom. This woodblock print series is considered to be his rarest set of prints. The series features various fishing prints like whaling, shelling, and more. 

What is “The Great Wave of Kanagawa”?

The Great Wave of Kanagawa is Katsushika Hokusai’s most famous artwork. This artwork is popular for its stormy, dark blue waves and boat attempting to stay afloat.

The Great Wave of Kanagawa by Katsushika Hokusai printed in 1829

Many people have different interpretations of what this painting means, which might be why it is such a treasured and iconic painting. Waves are formless, they are unpredictable, and you cannot control them. The struggle between man and wave is an enticing but dangerous one, something that you only want to look at from afar.

People have speculated for years that perhaps Hokusai enjoyed waves and some people interject it must be a response to a tsunami event during his lifetime.

No matter Hokusai’s reason for painting it, The Great Wave is a major part of the Ukiyo-e movement, a popular Japanese art genre from the 17th century. Most of these art pieces were heavily influenced by natural landscapes.

Ukiyo-e Prints Search Website

What was the impact of Katsushika Hokusai?

The artistic work of Katsushika Hokusai has had a global impact due to his colorful design. More than that, he set the trend in going beyond real. Hokusai infused emotion with reality to create an impressionist art form. 

This artistic work provoked many other pieces by other artists. Some of these works include Monk Nichiren Calming the Stormy Sea by Utagawa Kuniyoshi, painted in 1835.

A sculpture by Camille Claudel called La Vague in 1897 was also greatly influenced by The Great Wave. When viewing this thought-provoking art piece, you can see Claudel’s transformative vision.

The Great Wave and the Japanese yen

There are thousands upon thousands of art pieces created by people each day inspired by Hokusai. None of these inspired art pieces are more compelling than what Japan has planned for their upcoming currency.

In 2024, Japan will produce all Japanese 1000 yen notes with The Great Wave pattern in the background.  Integrating a new currency with The Great Wave is a great way to allow Hokusai’s legacy to continue living. 

The Great Wave inspired Vincent Van Gogh.

Japonism had a major influence on Western Culture. In addition to being the most widely recreated artwork globally, the Great Wave inspired one of the most famous Impressionist artists, Vincent Van Gogh.

After witnessing this painting, Vincent Van Gogh began to create oil paintings that strongly resembled the Great Wave. One of the most common pieces created after the Great Wave was The Starry Night. You can recognize the resemblance immediately in the bright blue sky, which represents and somewhat replicates Hokusai’s crashing waves.


Katsushika Hokusai is Japan’s most famous artist, with an artistic touch that paved the way for artists forever. His unique Thirty-Six Views of Mount Fuji’s piece were only the beginning of what inspired artists like Vincent Van Gogh. 

In the modern-day, Hokusai’s artwork is not forgotten. Across the world, people continue to appreciate Hokusai’s artistic talents. 

Official Website Of Katsushika Hokusai

The love and admiration for this artist will never perish. The inspiration and joy Katsushika Hokusai and his work continue to spread prove that his talent is everlasting. Hokusai created thousands of pieces throughout his life, but none of them were as popular as The Great Wave. The popularity continues to grow, even to this day.

Hokusai Mini Documentary Via Great Art Explained

My fascination with Japan began several years back at a roadside bonsai stand while on vacation. I became more interested in the where and why's more than the trees themselves. My love of Bonsai led me to further research my interest in the gardens where they originated from and the places and people that surrounded those little trees. My curiosity was well rewarded upon visiting Saitama where the National Bonsai Museum was located and Omiya Village the bonsai mecca for lovers of this ancient art form. Exploring many towns and villages and even making my way to Japan's furthest southern prefecture of Okinawa. I hope to share my love of this wonderful and exotic place with all those who want to know more about Japan.