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Hokusai’s Great Wave

Hokusai’s Great Wave: Biography of a Global Icon

Copyright Date: 2015
Pages: 272
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  • Book Info
    Hokusai’s Great Wave
    Book Description:

    Hokusai's "Great Wave," as it is commonly known today, is arguably one of Japan's most successful exports, its commanding cresting profile instantly recognizable no matter how different its representations in media and style. In this richly illustrated and highly original study, Guth examines the iconic wave from its first publication in 1831 through the remarkable range of its articulations, arguing that it has been a site where the tensions, contradictions, and, especially, the productive creativities of the local and the global have been negotiated and expressed. She follows the wave's trajectory across geographies, linking its movements with larger political, economic, technological, and sociocultural developments. Adopting a case study approach, Guth explores issues that map the social life of the iconic wave across time and place, from the initial reception of the woodblock print in Japan, to the image's adaptations as part of "international nationalism," its place in American perceptions of Japan, its commercial adoption for lifestyle branding, and finally to its identification as a tsunami, bringing not culture but disaster in its wake.

    Wide ranging in scope yet grounded in close readings of disparate iterations of the wave, multidisciplinary and theoretically informed in its approach,Hokusai's Great Wavewill change both how we look at this global icon and the way we study the circulation of Japanese prints. This accessible and engagingly written work moves beyond the standard hagiographical approach to recognize, as categories of analysis, historical and geographic contingency as well as visual and technical brilliance. It is a book that will interest students of Japan and its culture and more generally those seeking fresh perspectives on the dynamics of cultural globalization.

    eISBN: 978-0-8248-5395-2
    Subjects: History, Art & Art History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Illustrations
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xiii-xvi)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. 1-16)

    No non-Western artwork has been reproduced so widely or undergone so many reconfigurations in so many parts of the world as Hokusai’s “Under the Wave off Kanagawa,” commonly known as “The Great Wave.” Not only is it instantly recognizable, but familiarity with it has contributed to the way many people visualize waves today. Despite its iconic stature, however, historians have not explored its temporal and spatial migrations from Japan to distant parts of the world. What is it about this image that so galvanizes viewers? Why has it generated such a plurality of responses in so many media? What do...

  6. CHAPTER 1 “Under the Wave off Kanagawa”
    (pp. 17-53)

    In 1830 the publication of a series ofThirty-Six Views of Mount Fujiby the artist Hokusai was announced in the back of a collection of stories by Ryutei Tanehiko, a writer of popular fiction whose public recognition at the time matched that of his artist friend Hokusai. This advertisement, quoted above, was not unique but accompanied others on the same page for woodblock printed pictures and books forthcoming from Eijudō, the publishing house of Nishimura Yōhachi (also known as Nishimuraya), a leader in this highly competitive field.¹ Repeated in other books in 1832 and again in 1833, and 1834,...

  7. CHAPTER 2 International Nationalism
    (pp. 54-96)

    Illustrated books and single sheet prints of Hokusai’s great waves began circulating in Europe and America in the 1860s. The speed with which they were disseminated, reproduced, and reinterpreted speaks to the new modes of transportation, communication, and technology that were simultaneously constructing and dismantling existing understandings of center and periphery.¹ Individual agents, exhibitions, reproductions, and adaptations in visual and material forms, as well as literary references all played a role in their circulation. Although iterations of the wave were extremely diverse, and sometimes only loosely related to Hokusai’s designs, his interpretations helped to make this motif a metaphor for...

  8. CHAPTER 3 America’s Japan
    (pp. 97-136)

    In the opening decade of the twenty-first century, two very different evocations of “The Great Wave” appeared in the United States. Published in 2003 on the 150th anniversary of Perry’s arrival in Japan, a book,The Great Wave: Gilded Age Misfits, Eccentrics, and the Opening of Old Japan,featured on its opening page a detail of Hokusai’s print.¹ The title of Christopher Benfey’s engaging narrative affirmed the perception that the United States has a special relationship with Japan because of Matthew Perry’s role in ending its “self-imposed isolation from the outside world.” Three years later, a quarter-page advertisement for the...

  9. CHAPTER 4 Lifestyle Branding
    (pp. 137-168)

    Recursivity over a long period of time in strikingly varied contexts has given “The Great Wave” considerable value as global commercial currency. Many other works of art, including Michelangelo’sDavid,Leonardo’sMona Lisa,and, especially, Van Gogh’sSunflowers, enjoy comparable recognition. The wave’s nonfigural subject, its adaptability, and, above all, its twinned connotations of alterity and authenticity, however, make it far more conducive to multiethnic and multicultural product design and promotion. The elimination of Mount Fuji, a feature of many of its commodified articulations, has helped the image migrate by unmooring it from Japan and transforming it into a nonspecific...

  10. CHAPTER 5 Placemaking
    (pp. 169-198)

    Relocations of “The Great Wave” as part of the natural and built environments bring home sociocultural awareness of both the challenges and the opportunities of global change. Their patterns of distribution, in forms that may be loosely characterized as site-specific art, are uneven and do not imply uniform understandings of the wave, but all share an emphasis on real-life responses to global interdependence.¹ Some involve permanent transformation of the lived environment, whereas others alter the way it is experienced only temporarily. Coupled with the recognition of the importance of particular places in constructing social identities, these adaptive reuses of the...

  11. EPILOGUE: After the Tsunami
    (pp. 199-208)

    Is critical closure possible in a study that attempts to analyze a global phenomenon that figures so conspicuously in so many contexts and with so many meanings? Given the extraordinary range and ever-expanding scope of its iterations, this study has not sought to be comprehensive or to provide the last word on “The Great Wave.” Its aim instead has been to bring new critical awareness to the complex process through which a woodblock print by a nineteenth-century Japa nese artist has become a significant part of contemporary visual and material culture in many parts of the world. The motif is...

  12. Notes
    (pp. 209-236)
  13. Bibliography
    (pp. 237-248)
  14. Index
    (pp. 249-256)
  15. Back Matter
    (pp. 257-257)