Sunday, 15 January 2017

The Great Wave - a different perception.

Hokusai's The Great Wave of Kanagwa (Kanagawa-oki nami ur) is one of the most copied and re-imaged in the world. The woodblock print was published somewhere between 1830 and 1833.

In the scene, the boat is a oshiokuri-bune, a fast boat used to transport live fish from the Izu and Bōsō peninsulas to the markets of the bay of Edo. As the name of the piece indicates the boats are in Kanagawa prefecture, with Tokyo to the north, Mt Fuji, which is away in the background of the image is to the northwest, the bay of Sagami to the south and the bay of Tokyo to the east. 

There are eight rowers in the boat, clinging to their oars. Using the boats as reference, you can approximate the size of the wave: the oshiokuri-bune were generally between 12 and 15 meters long, and noting that Hokusai reduced the vertical scale by 30%, the wave must be between 10 and 12 meters tall.

The popular understanding of the image in the west is that of a boat heading for disaster, about to be overwhelmed by a huge sea - especially given the measurements determined in the previous paragraph. However, a better understanding of the image can be made if it is viewed, or perceived as you would if you were raised in Japan - where the reading of a page - or image - is the opposite to that of us in the West. To understand how this affects our response to the image can easily be achieved - by reversing the image so that we 'read' it the same way as if we were subject to the perceptual influence of the Japanese...

now the image provokes a different response - that of eight hardy fishermen taking on a huge seas they make their way back to port with their cargo of live fish.

More about Hokusai can be read here: