Heritage and the Politics of Culture
‘The Great Wave’ designed by Katsushika Hokusai (1769-1849) was published c. 1831 as part of the series Thirty-six views of Mt. Fuji. In 1834, soon after the complete series had been published, a kawaraban (anonymous broadside) used Hoksai's Great Wave to represent a disaster caused by an exceptionally heavy rainstorm on Fuji’s slopes, reinterpreting the image to stand for the terrible destructive force of nature.
Vincent Van Gogh (1853-1890) wrote about the Great Wave in the following terms in a letter to his brother Theo in 1888:
Hokusai makes you cry out the same thing—but in his case with his lines, his drawing, since in your letter you say to yourself: these waves are claws, the boat is caught in them, you can feel it. Ah well, if we made the colour very correct or the drawing very correct, we wouldn’t create those emotions.
The Great Wave has been adapted and interpreted in many ways. This iconic image has generated various emotional experiences, including nationalism, fear, inferiority, nostalgia and helplessness in the face of a greater power than man.
In this paper, I will place particular emphasis on the ways in which Hokusai’s approach to depicting waves evolved through his long career and the emotional responses they have evoked. This will allow me to explore conceptual analysis of the Great Wave and its metaphor. It will reveal how Hokusai’s iconic Great Wave’s expanding boundaries have since come to include media cross over and growing international reach and cultural influence.