Exhibit :: Disasters and Rebuilding in Japan: Perspectives and Testimonies from the Tri-Co Collection 

From the SeriesThirty-Six Views of
Mount Fuji

CreatorKatsushika Hokusai

DescriptionColor woodblock

Dateca. 1826-1833

InstitutionBryn Mawr College Collection
X.1030 and X.1029

Works Cited

Hodogaya on the Tokaido and Gaifu Kaisei

Betrice Yambrach, Bryn Mawr College, Class of 2014

Mount Fuji has always had a "dominant place in the cultural psyche of Japan" (Clark, 2001, p. 8). Throughout time its iconic snow-capped peak has invoked artistic, spiritual, and philosophical inspiration. Katsushika Hokusai's Hodogaya on the Tokaido and Gaifu Kaisei (ca. 1826-1833) colored woodblock prints from his famous Thirty-Six Views of Mount Fuji, portray the different approaches artists have used when representing Mount Fuji. These two prints show that many depictions of Mount Fuji have stemmed from these two prints and have been used over time for both personal and national reasons. Overall, Mount Fuji has become an important and enduring symbol not only for the Japanese, but for those who imagine Japan from a distance.

One unique factor in these prints is that unlike traditional ukiyo-e, which usually represents staged images of courtesans and Kabuki actors, they are depicting landscape and daily lives. This was an unconventional approach used by Hokusai who often incorporated European artistic styles into his work. Hokusai was born in Edo (Modern Day Tokyo), Japan in 1760. He studied under Shunso, a master artist of ukiyo-e at the time. After Shunsho's death in 1793, Hokusai began experimenting with other styles of art, including Dutch and French copperplate engraving. These styles can be seen in many of his works and were ultimately a breakthrough for his career, in addition to creating a new popularized genre for ukiyo-e. (katsushikahokusai.org)

Hodogaya on the Tokaido (Figure 1) shows the iconic snow-capped Mount Fuji seen from Hodogaya (in Yokohama, Japan) a station on the Tokaido Road. The Tokaido Road, also known as the "Eastern Sea Road", was one of the most popular highways connecting Edo to Kyoto along the Pacific Coast. With Mount Fuji visible all along its path, it became a place for artists, poets, and thinkers to gain inspiration (Clark, 2001, p.13). The Tokaido Road reached the height of its popularity during the seventeenth century with the rapid development of Edo, leading to an increase in artists and thinkers using the road as a means of inspiration rather than travel.

In this print the viewer gets a unique perspective in regards to the travelers in the center. Here, Hokusai is playing on the different socio-economics of the time, which he tended to do in his works (katsushikahokusai.org). The three men standing in the center can be observed to be of a lower class than the characters in the palanquin and on top of the horse. The lower social status of the three standing men is distinguished through their disheveled and tired appearance; taking off their shirts and fixing their shoes, indicating that they have just finished an arduous hike. However, the higher social status of the other two characters in the scene is represented through their rather peaceful facade; bundled up in their blankets while riding comfortably in the palanquin or on top of the horse, not having to deal with the efforts of hiking. The character on the very right does not belong to this center group. His white robes indicate that he is a monk; heading up the mountain where the center characters had just come from. In Hodogaya on the Tokaido viewers can really see how Hokusai breaks away from conventional ukiyo-e by creating a scene that could be considered to represent more of an ordinary lifestyle. At the same time Hokusai is introducing the viewer into Japanese society by depicting characters both of different social classes as well as spiritual or religious sects.

In Hodogaya on the Tokaido, the only character acknowledging the presence of Mount Fuji is the man guiding the horse. His back is turned to the viewer "pointing his…stick at the mountain like a teacher at the blackboard"(britishmuseum.org). In relation, the figure of the man on horseback is, himself, an acknowledgement of Mount Fuji. His white hat depicts Mount Fuji's snow-capped peak, whereas his hunched body mirrors the triangular shape of the mountain. In his prints, Hokusai finds ways to parallel Mount Fuji's image through characters or objects in his scenes. Ultimately, it could be argued that this is Hokusai's way of representing the idea that Mount Fuji is a strong element in Japan that is embodied through every Japanese and affects everyone, regardless of class. It is his way of saying how important a role Mount Fuji has in Japanese cultural and spiritual life (Forrer, 1991, p. 12).

Gaifu Kaisei (translated to South Wind, Clear Dawn)(Figure 2) is unique in the sense that in this print, Mount Fuji is isolated and the center of attention. It is represented in a strong, solitary light. While Hodogaya on the Tokaido shows a more popular image and visually symbolizes Mount Fuji's cultural significance, Gaifu Kaisei brings a more nationalistic approach. The print is based some time between late summer and early autumn, as indicated by the rich, green vegetation surrounding the mountain. The red coloration of Mount Fuji is not the soil, or an indication that the mountain is about to erupt. Rather, it is a reflection of the Rising Sun which, in Japanese folklore, is an important element that is used to symbolize the goddess Amaterasu (Forrer, 1991, p. 12). In Japanese Shinto belief, Amaterasu is not only the goddess of the sun, but of the whole universe. She is known as the Great Goddess of Japan who the Emperor has descended from. Hokusai expresses these spiritual beliefs through the red coloration of Mount Fuji as a reflection of that rising sun. He then emphasizes the color even more by balancing it against a dark green base and blue background so that it stands out more boldly.

By the early twentieth century artists began to mimic Hokusai's Gaifu Kaisei by creating more representations of Mount Fuji in an isolated and physically powerful manner. These images of Mount Fuji along with the Rising Sun became national symbols that were seen as exclusive elements to Japan. The Japanese Empire used different sources of media to promote Japan as a "timeless land with verdant peaks, typified by the national symbol of Mount Fuji, friendly natives…and refined cultural sensibility" (Since Meiji, 2011, p. 92), through these symbols. Ultimately, these symbols helped rationale for Japanese imperialism, leading to statements such as "Japanese Occupation was benign and that less civilized people needed Japanese guidance" (Since Meiji, 2011, p.133).

By the time of the Pacific War, the Japanese Government began commissioning artists to produce paintings and images of Japan's national symbols (Mount Fuji and the Rising Sun) in order to strengthen nationalism among the Japanese citizens. Military authorities began using artists in alignment with state policy (Since Meiji, 2011, p.129). Artists became soldiers on the home front, wielding their brushes in place of a sword, as an effort to mobilize the entire nation for war under the national rhetoric known as "Japanese spirit"(Since Meiji, 2011, p.142). Their work usually portrayed romantic and grandiose scenes of war that were intended to convince the nation of Japan's ability to win. Yokoyama Taikan, one of the government commissioned artists, intensified his focus on Mount Fuji and used it to support the argument of Japan as the spiritual source of imperial expansion, creating a logical reasoning for Japan's position in the war (Figure 3) (Since Meiji, 2011, p.125).

After Japan lost the war and the American Occupation took over (1945-1952), policies regarding Japanese artwork had shifted. Although the occupiers went through elaborate protection of Japanese "traditional fine arts" or "national treasures", they confiscated films, books, and paintings that were produced during the war years (1931-1945), claiming that these works were only nationalistic propaganda and should not deserve real artistic merit (Mayo and Rimer, 2001, p.21). Among these banned works were images of Mount Fuji and the Rising Sun. The positive and romantic symbolism of Mount Fuji transformed into a dark, negative element, being considered ultra nationalistic and militaristic. The rationale for this censorship was a means to maintain public tranquility for fear that these objects would revive nationalistic and imperialistic tendencies (Mayor and Rimer, 2001, p. 271). This was a shift from Mount Fuji being defined under a Japanese perspective to a foreign perspective, in which the traditional Japanese symbolization and sentiment regarding Mount Fuji was lost or disregarded. As the Occupation concluded and feelings of nationalism and imperialism dissipated, Mount Fuji regained its romantic image.

Overall, Hodogaya on the Tokaido and Gaifu Kaisei represent the transformation of Mount Fuji in a national symbol in Japanese art. Hodogaya on the Tokaido begins by depicting this idea that Mount Fuji is an important symbol embodied by all Japanese. It's close and personal. On the other hand, Gaifu Kaisei turns this symbolization into a national icon of Japan. Ultimately, Mount Fuji's image is changed to represent a unique and exclusive culture exemplified by Japan, which is eventually appropriated into imperialist imagery that is used to create national support for and during the Pacific War. Even today, Mount Fuji maintains its dominance in the Japanese psyche as a place that is spiritually and physically exclusive to Japan, but also an image used to identify Japan to the international community.