Hokusai: What Makes Him Popular?


Recently, I attended a seminar on the topic of ‘Hokusai: What Makes Him Popular’ hosted by the Daiwa Anglo-Japanese Foundation. The main speaker was Alfred Haft, a Project Curator in the Department of Asia at the British Museum, focusing on Japanese art of the Edo period, especially woodblock prints, and Tsuyoshi Tane, is a Paris-based Japanese architect, and founder of Atelier Tsuyoshi Tane Architects.

Katsushika Hokusai (1760-1849) is one of Japan’s most famous artists, and his ukiyoe still enjoy great popularity today. His work travelled to the outside world in the late 19th century when Japan opened up, and became an inspiration to many European artists. Hokusai’s art has been exhibited all over the world, but its scope has yet to be fully understood, and new discoveries continue to be made.

In this webinar, Alfred Haft considered the reasons for Hokusai’s popularity in connection with the Museum’s rediscovery of a group of more than 100 rare Hokusai drawings, and their display in the Museum’s current exhibition, Hokusai—The Great Picture Book of Everything.  Tane Tsuyoshi then talked about the Hokusai exhibitions he has curated in Paris and Tokyo, creatively deploying a combination of immersive installations and digital art. We hope to shed new light on Hokusai’s multifarious talent.

It was a very interesting webinar and Haft’s presentation is now available on YouTube.

I was interested in the seminar largely due to the fact that I include a Hokusai picture – the Great Wave off Kanagawa – in my book Japan: The Basics. Technically, the picture is in there twice – once in the standard format and once having been flipped so as to better get across how the image is viewed by those (such as the Japanese and especially those around the time of Hokusai) who tend to view pictures and text from right to left.

It was an interesting seminar and I am now thinking about whether there are places for aspects of its contents and the issues to be included in the update to my book Japan: The Basics. However, I’m still left pondering the answer to the overall question of the seminar itself. Perhaps it is unanswerable.

Further details about the event can be found on the Daiwa Anglo-Japanese Foundation site (this is also where the cover picture for this post was taken from)

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