Object 1 : Hokusai’s “The Great Wave”

June 1, 2021


This is The Great Wave by Katsushika Hokusai. It is the first and most well-known piece in Hokusai’s series, 36 views of Mt Fuji. This piece depicts a monstrous wave before it crashes with Mount Fuji seen in the background. People outside of Japan recognize this piece as a Japanese cultural symbol. However, people in Japan just see this piece as an example of the woodblock printing style that was popular among Japanese artists during Hokusai’s time period.

This piece holds a cultural significance in the West that it does not in Japan. Because of this, we can say that this piece has lost its original meaning, however, the loss of said meaning is not considered to have negatively impacted the nature of the piece. In fact, it is more accurate to say that this piece gained something positive out of being given a new meaning. Despite this, Japanese art historians and government officials were against this piece’s newfound popularity in the West, believing that there are many other examples of great Japanese artworks that Westerners can view as representative. This demonstrates that one possible challenge in the dissemination/communication of knowledge is the unwanted assignment of a cultural symbol that holds a different meaning in its own country of origin.

Despite the negative attitude Japanese art historians and government officials initially had for this piece’s popularity, Japan has more recently adopted the significance that foreigners have given this piece. This is a direct result of the miscommunication of knowledge. This object enriches this exhibition by presenting an anomaly in the consideration of the challenges raised in the dissemination/communication of knowledge; it shows how these challenges were overcome and embraced. Now, it is no longer regarded as some commercial woodblock print, but rather one of the most influential and recognizable pieces of Japanese art.

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