15 March 2011


(The Great Wave at Kanagawa. 1823-1829. Katsushika Hokusai.) 

The Great Wave at Kanagawa, or simply, The Great Wave, a woodblock created by Japanese printmaster Katsushika Hokusai between 1823 and 1829, is widely seen as a depiction of a tsunami—though it might be an okinami, a "wave of the open sea."

Whatever Hokusai's original intent, the image has since become a Japanese icon, copied and emulated many times.

(Modern copy of The Great Wave off Kanagawa. c. 1930. Unknown.)

The recut above, made 100 years after Hokusai's original, is probably the better-known version today.

(Die Woge. 2006. Tobia Stengel. Via Wikimedia Commons.)

The German city of Dresden installed a sculptural version of The Great Wave by Tobias Stengel, called Die Woge, commemorating the epic flooding on the Elbe River in 2002.

(The Great Wave Off Of Louisiana. Via.)

Hokusai's image can be powerfully repurposed for current calamities—in this case, for BP's Gulf oil catastrophe last year.

I couldn't find anything more on this dark wave, such as: who made it. Can anyone help?

(Illustration to The Tale of Tsar Saltan, 1905, by Ivan Yakovlevich Bilibin.)

Hokusai's wave was adapted by the Russian Ivan Yakovlevich Bilibin, who created many lovely images to illustrate Slavic fairy tales.

Sadly, Bilibin was overwhelmed by the tsunami of World War II, and died in 1942 during the Siege of Leningrad, alongside 642,000 other civilians, many of whom starved to death.

This is the original cover to the sheet music for Claude Debussy's 1905 La Mer ("The Sea"), as moody and shifting an impression of the ocean as was ever written.


Hokusai's image is metaphor friendly and travels well through time. As best I can tell, this homage, above, called The Wave of the Future, was made by an IBM users group.

(The Great Wave at Iwanuma, 2011. Via.)

The adaptation above was posted online on 11 March 2011.


As was this map, produced by NOAA/NWS/West Coast and Alaska Tsunami Warning Center on the day of Japan's Sendai Earthquake.
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