Everything you need to know about the Great Wave of Kanagawa

The “Great Wave of Kanagawa” is undoubtedly one of the most iconic and internationally recognized Japanese works of art. This legendary print was created by Japanese artist Katsushika Hokusai in the early 19th century, during the Edo period, and it continues to captivate and inspire art lovers around the world.

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The history of the "Great Wave of Kanagawa" dates back to 19th century Japan, during the Edo period (1603-1868). Japanese artist Katsushika Hokusai, also known as Hokusai, is the author of this iconic work. Hokusai was a master of ukiyo-e, a popular art genre of the time that was characterized by woodblock prints and which featured scenes of daily life, landscapes and elements of nature.

The "Great Wave of Kanagawa" was created around 1831 as part of a series entitled "The Thirty-Six Views of Mount Fuji" (Fugaku Sanjūrokkei). This series was intended to celebrate the beauty and majesty of Mount Fuji, Japan's highest peak and an iconic national symbol. Each print in the series featured a different view of the famous mountain in varying weather conditions and seasons.

The “Great Wave off Kanagawa” quickly became one of the most famous and influential prints in this series. Its innovative style, dynamic composition and striking representation of nature make it a major work of art. The print depicts a huge wave crashing into small fishing boats, symbolizing the devastating power of nature, while Mount Fuji stands in the background, unfazed by the storm.

This print gained worldwide fame for its impact on Western art, including artists like Vincent van Gogh and Claude Monet. It also contributed to the craze for Japonism in Europe in the 19th century, marking a new era of appreciation of Japanese art on an international scale.

Today, the "Great Wave of Kanagawa" is considered a national treasure of Japan and is on display at the Tokyo Metropolitan Museum of Art. She continues to fascinate and inspire art lovers around the world, while embodying the power of Japanese artistic expression and the timeless beauty of Mount Fuji.


Hokusai's "Great Wave off Kanagawa" has had a profound and lasting impact on art around the world. His influence extended well beyond the borders of Japan to become an essential reference in the history of art.

  1. Japonism in Europe: The wave of popularity of Japanese art that swept Europe in the 19th century, known as Japonism, was largely influenced by Hokusai and his prints. As briefly mentioned above, renowned artists such as Vincent van Gogh, Claude Monet and Edgar Degas were deeply fascinated by Japanese art, particularly ukiyo-e prints. They incorporated elements of Japanese art into their own work, contributing to an artistic movement that left an indelible mark on Western art.

  2. The revival of Japanese printmaking : Hokusai himself was a master of ukiyo-e printmaking , an artistic genre that reached new heights thanks to his talent. His ability to capture the beauty of nature, daily life and Japanese culture inspired many artists of the time and contributed to the revival of Japanese printmaking. His innovative style and mastery of composition opened new avenues in the art of printmaking, creating a lasting legacy for future generations.

  3. A symbol of Japan: The “Great Wave of Kanagawa” has become an iconic symbol of Japan, recognized throughout the world. Its distinctive pattern is associated with Japanese culture, the beauty of nature and the harmony between man and his environment. This print continues to be celebrated in Japan through various media, including stamps, banknotes and consumer products.

  4. Exhibitions and collections: Hokusai's work is regularly exhibited in museums around the world, attracting millions of visitors each year. It is a centerpiece of these exhibitions, attracting the attention and admiration of the international public, it is also a prized piece in many private and public collections, attesting to its artistic and cultural value.

In short, Hokusai's "Great Wave of Kanagawa" transcends cultural and linguistic boundaries to become a universal symbol of art and artistic expression. Its impact continues to be felt across generations, a testament to how an exceptional work of art can transcend its time and become a pillar of global culture.

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The print entitled "The Great Wave off Kanagawa" is a masterpiece of ukiyo-e art, famous for its rich symbolism and striking composition. Each element of this iconic work has a profound meaning:

  1. The great wave on a raging sea: The great wave occupies most of the print and is the focal point of the work, it represents the devastating power of nature, embodied by the ocean . This giant wave threatens to overwhelm the small fishing boats below, illustrating humanity's vulnerability to natural forces. The wave is a visual metaphor for the power of the ocean, its vagaries and the fragility of human life.

  2. Mount Fuji in the background: Mount Fuji is an iconic symbol of Japan, representing the timeless beauty and majesty of nature. In this print, it stands in the background, providing a stark contrast to the violence of the wave. Mount Fuji is generally associated with serenity and stability, and its presence in the print creates a balance between calm and storm, it also symbolizes the notion of perseverance, as it remains imperturbable despite the tumult of the ocean .

  3. Belonging to the series "The Thirty-Six Views of Mount Fuji": The print is part of a series by Hokusai entitled "The Thirty-Six Views of Mount Fuji," which presents different perspectives of the Mount Fuji. Each print in the series offers a unique take on the iconic mountain, highlighting its versatility and significance in Japanese culture. The “Great Wave of Kanagawa” is one of the most famous works in this series, demonstrating the lasting impact of Mount Fuji on art and daily life in Japan.

Together these elements create a print that transcends its visual beauty to express profound themes, such as the confrontation between humanity and nature, perseverance in the face of adversity, and coexistence harmonious between opposing forces. This work remains a source of artistic and philosophical inspiration for future generations, capturing the essence of traditional Japanese art and the relationship between man and nature.


The influence of Hokusai's "Great Wave of Kanagawa" goes far beyond the world of painting and art. This iconic print has been adapted and reinterpreted in various areas of Japanese culture, including traditional fashion.

  1. Kimonos: Kimonos are undoubtedly the most iconic Japanese clothing, and the Kanagawa Wave has found its place on these traditional garments. This print is often reproduced as a pattern on kimonos, giving the clothing an artistic and symbolic touch. Kimonos featuring the "Great Wave" are popular on special occasions, such as wedding ceremonies and festivals.

  2. Haoris: Haoris are light and elegant kimono jackets. The Kanagawa Wave is sometimes printed or embroidered on these haoris to add an artistic and contemporary dimension to this traditional outfit.

  3. Yukatas: Yukatas are casual summer kimonos, often worn during summer festivals in Japan. “Great Wave” motifs are commonly used to adorn yukatas, creating a fusion between traditional art and contemporary fashion.

  4. Japanese pajamas: Japanese pajamas, called "jinbei," also adopted the "Great Wave of Kanagawa" as a motif. These light and comfortable garments are worn at home and have become popular for their artistic aesthetic, they can also be worn outdoors.

  5. Accessories: In addition to clothing, the Kanagawa Wave motif is also found on various accessories, such as fans, tote bags, umbrellas and socks. These items allow people to incorporate Hokusai's art into their daily lives.

The adaptation of “The Great Wave of Kanagawa” onto traditional Japanese clothing demonstrates the continued appreciation of this legendary print. It merges the richness of traditional Japanese culture with contemporary aesthetics, creating a unique and timeless form of artistic expression. This artistic variation of Japanese fashion contributes to preserving and promoting the cultural heritage of Japan throughout the world.

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From now on, the world-famous print by the famous Hokusai: The Great Wave off Kanagawa, no longer holds any secrets for you. If you want to display this Japanese treasure on one of your outfits, don't hesitate to opt for a kimono or a haori. Finally, if you wish to highlight this work on the walls of your home, do not hesitate to choose a noren, a wave-patterned fan or directly a reproduction of this magnificent print.

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