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Dictionary Definition

Hokusai n : Japanese painter whose work influenced the impressionists (1760-1849) [syn: Katsushika Hokusai]

Extensive Definition

was a Japanese artist, ukiyo-e painter and printmaker of the Edo period. In his time he was Japan's leading expert on Chinese painting. Born in Edo (now Tokyo), Hokusai is best-known as author of the woodblock print series Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji (c. 1831) which includes the iconic and internationally recognized print, The Great Wave off Kanagawa, created during the 1820s. Hokusai created the "Thirty-Six Views" both as a response to a domestic travel boom and as part of a personal obsession with Mount Fuji. It was this series, specifically The Great Wave print and Fuji in Clear Weather, that secured Hokusai’s fame both within Japan and overseas. As historian Richard Lane concludes, “Indeed, if there is one work that made Hokusai's name, both in Japan and abroad, it must be this monumental print-series...” . While Hokusai's work prior to this series is certainly important, it was not until this series that he gained broad recognition and left a lasting impact on the art world. It was The Great Wave print that initially received, and continues to receive, acclaim and popularity in the Western world.

Early life and artistic training

Hokusai was born on the 23rd day of 9th month of the 10th year of the Hōreki period (October or November 1760) to an artisan family, in the Katsushika district of Edo, Japan. His childhood name was Tokitarō. At 14, he became an apprentice to a wood-carver, where he worked until the age of 18, whereupon he was accepted into the studio of Katsukawa Shunshō. Shunshō was an artist of ukiyo-e, a style of wood block prints and paintings that Hokusai would master, and head of the so-called Katsukawa school.
After a year, Hokusai's name changed for the first time, when he was dubbed Shunrō by his master. It was under this name that he published his first prints, a series of pictures of Kabuki actors published in 1779. During the decade he worked in Shunshō's studio, Hokusai was married to his first wife, about whom very little is known except that she died in the early 1790s. He would marry again in 1797, although this second wife also died after a short time. He fathered two sons and three daughters with these two wives, and his youngest daughter Oyei eventually became an artist like her father.
1807 saw Hokusai collaborate with the popular novelist Takizawa Bakin on a series of illustrated books. The two did not get along due to artistic differences, and their collaboration ended during work on their fourth. The publisher, given the choice between keeping Hokusai or Bakin on the project, opted to keep Hokusai, emphasizing the importance of illustrations in printed works of the period.
In 1811, at the age of 51, Hokusai changed his name to Taito and entered the period in which he created the Hokusai Manga and various etehon, or art manuals. He also began producing a number of detailed individual images of flowers and birds, including the extraordinarily detailed Poppies and Flock of Chickens.

Later life

The next period, beginning in 1834, saw Hokusai working under the name "Gakyō Rōjin Manji" (The Old Man Mad About Art). It was at this time that Hokusai produced One Hundred Views of Mount Fuji, another significant landscape series.
Constantly seeking to produce better work, he apparently exclaimed on his deathbed, "If only Heaven will give me just another ten years... Just another five more years, then I could become a real painter." He died on April 18, 1849, and was buried at the Seikyō-ji in Tokyo (Taito Ward). In addition, he is responsible for the 1834 One Hundred Views of Mount Fuji (富嶽百景 Fugaku Hyakkei), a work which "is generally considered the masterpiece among his landscape picture books." His ukiyo-e transformed the art form from a style of portraiture focused on the courtesans and actors popular during the Edo Period in Japan's cities into a much broader style of art that focused on landscapes, plants, and animals. These sketches are often incorrectly considered the precedent to modern manga, as Hokusai's Manga is a collection of sketches (of animals, people, objects, etc.), different from the story-based comic-book style of modern manga.

Influences on art and culture

Hokusai inspired the Hugo Award winning short story by science fiction author Roger Zelazny, "24 views of Mt. Fuji, by Hokusai", in which the protagonist tours the area surrounding Mt. Fuji, with each stop being a location painted by Hokusai.

Listing of Selected Works

The following is a selected list of Hokusai's works, listed chronologically. Each of these works has been mentioned or used as an illustration by one of Hokusai's biographers, and is either representative of Hokusai's best work or of specific periods in the development of his art.
  • Lady and Attendants (c. 1779) Painting on silk
  • Asakusa Shrine, Edo (c. 1780) Wood-block print
  • Four Courtesans of the House of Chojiya (1782) Wood-block print
  • Seyawa Kikujuro Acting Woman's Part (1783) Wood-block print
  • Actor Danjurō (1784) Wood-block print
  • Chinese Boys at Play (1789) Wood-block print
  • Attack on Moranoa's Castle from Chusingura (1789-1806) Wood-block print
  • A Ferryboat with Passengers Bearing New Year's Gifts (c. 1800) Surinomo
  • Portrait of the Artist from The Tactics of General Oven (1800) Wood-block print in novel
  • Amusements of the Eastern Capital (1800-1802) Wood-block print series
  • Shower at Shin-Yangi Bridge from Both Banks of the Sumida River (1803) Wood-block print in guidebook
  • Fifty-Three Stations of the Tokaido Road (1806) Wood-block print series
  • Chinese Tortures from Bakin's Cruelties of Dobki (1807) Wood-block print in novel
  • Quick Lessons on Simplified Drawing (1812) Illustrated guidebook
  • Hokusai Manga (1814-1834) Sketched illustrations, 15 volumes
  • 36 Views of Mount Fuji (1823-1829) Wood-block print series
  • A Tour of the Waterfalls of the Provinces (1827-1830) Wood-block print series
  • Unusual Views of Celebrated Bridges in the Provinces (1827-1830) Wood-block print series
  • Small Flowers (1830) Wood-block print series
  • Large Flowers (1830) Wood-block print series
  • One-Hundred Views of Mount Fuji   (1834)
  • Book of Warriors (1836) Wood-block print series
  • Self-Portrait (1839) Drawing
  • Willow and Young Crows (1842) Painting on silk
  • A Wood Gatherer (1849) Painting on silk



  • Lane, Richard (1989). Hokusai: Life and Work. E.P. Dutton, New York. ISBN 0-525-24455-7.
  • Nagata, Seiji (1995). "Hokusai: Genius of the Japanese Ukiyo-e." Kodansha International, Tokyo.
  • Smith, Henry D. II (1988). Hokusai: One Hundred Views of Mt. Fuji. George Braziller, Inc., Publishers, New York. ISBN 0807611956.
  • Weston, Mark (1999). Giants of Japan: The Lives of Japan's Most Influential Men and Women. New York: Kodansha International. ISBN 1-56836-286-2.

Further reading

General biography

  • Bowie, Theodore (1964). The Drawings of Hokusai. Indiana University Press, Bloomington.
  • Forrer, Matthi (1988). Hokusai Rizzoli, New York. ISBN 0-8478-0989-7.
  • Forrer, Matthi; van Gulik, Willem R., and Kaempfer, Heinz M. (1982). Hokusai and His School: Paintings, Drawings and Illustrated Books. Frans Halsmuseum, Haarlem. ISBN 9070216027
  • Hillier, Jack (1955). Hokusai: Paintings, Drawings and Woodcuts. Phaidon, London.
  • Hillier, Jack (1980). Art of Hokusai in Book Illustration. Sotheby Publications, London. ISBN 0520041372.
  • van Rappard-Boon, Charlotte (1982). Hokusai and his School: Japanese Prints c. 1800-1840 (Catalogue of the Collection of Japanese Prints, Rijksmuseum, Part III). Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam.

Specific works of art

For readers who want more information on specific works of arts by Hokusai, these particular works are recommended.
  • Hillier, Jack, and Dickens, F.W. (1960). Fugaku Hiyaku-kei (One Hundred Views of Fuji by Hokusai). Frederick, New York.
  • Kondo, Ichitaro (1966). Trans. Terry, Charles S. The Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji by Hokusai. East-West Center, Honolulu.
  • Michener, James A. (1958). The Hokusai Sketch-Books: Selections from the 'Manga'. Charles E. Tuttle, Rutland.
  • Morse, Peter (1989). Hokusai: One Hundred Poets. George Braziller, New York. ISBN 0807612138.
  • Narazaki, Muneshige (1968). Trans. Bester, John. Masterworks of Ukiyo-E: Hokusai - The Thirty-Six Views of Mt. Fuji. Kodansha, Tokyo.
hokusai in Arabic: هوكوسائي
hokusai in Asturian: Katsushika Hokusai
hokusai in Bosnian: Kacušika Hokusaj
hokusai in Bulgarian: Хокусай
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hokusai in Dutch: Katsushika Hokusai
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