The Great Wave off Kanagawa


Hokusai was a Japanese Ukiyo-e painter, well-known throughout Japan and Europe. He produced approximately 30,000 prints during his art career.

ARTWORK in context

In Japanese, it is titled Kanagawa oki nama ura, which translates to “Under the Wave off Kanagawa”. The painting is also dubbed as just The Great Wave.


The Edo period in Japan was between 1603 to around 1867. It was under the rule of the Tokugawa shogunate, which was the form of government during that time.


The Ukiyo-e prints became a genre of art during this period of Japanese history. It was in the form of paintings and woodblock prints that centered around the indulgences and enjoyments from the Ukiyo urban culture.


In three examples from Hokusai's earlier paintings, he includes the oceanic wave and its stylistic details. In all three paintings, the wave features in its characteristic curl.

importance of mount fuji

Hokusai made a wave painting series depicting different views of Mount Fuji. Mount Fuji held a deeper meaning for both Hokusai and the Japanese culture, deeming it a sacred mountain.


Japonism included a wide variety of Japanese arts and designs and was often appropriated from the perspective of the West. It was considered an “exotic” art style.

subject matter

The wave’s size composes most of the left side and fills up what seems to be a gray or creamy colored sky, the wave’s white foamy tips also seemingly double as white clouds in the sky.

subject matter

To the left-hand border of the print, there are two vertical signatures or inscriptions in traditional Japanese script, possibly Kanji. The inscription to the far-left states Hokusai’s name.


In The Great Wave off Kanagawa, Hokusai utilized various shades of blues. There was a specific color, called Prussian blue, that Hokusai reportedly used.

perspective and scale

We, the viewers, are situated at an unknown viewpoint that seems to be slightly elevated giving us this bird’s eye view.