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Great Wave off Kanagawa by Katsushika Hokusai

Great Wave off Kanagawa, Katsushika Hokusai

The Great Wave is not a painting but a woodblock print. The surface of the woodblock is first chiseled and cut, leaving a design. Black or colored ink is then applied to the raised woodblock. A piece of paper is placed over the block and rubbed with a pad that transfers ink to the paper. Mount Fuji, a well know landmark in Japan, is pictured in the background of this woodblock print, with a stormy seascape in the foreground. Three fishing barges are pictured in the stormy waves.

Hokusai was known for his unique landscape representation. Over the course of his career he changed his name several times, and used different media and techniques. He liked to depict everyday scenes rather than just the lives and world of the wealthy. This print, one of the better known prints from the series of 36 Views of Mount Fuji, is a great example of that.

Questions to Ask

What is the first thing you notice? This is the focal point. The focal point is what first draws your eye, something that stands out.

Has anyone been to the ocean? Has anyone gone into the waves? How did that feel? How does this picture make you feel?

Has anyone been fishing on a boat? Was it hard or easy to catch the fish? How do you think the fishermen were feeling? Why do you think they were fishing in the ocean?

Does this look realistic or imagined? Hokusai depicts the scene from this series of prints not exactly as they appear in nature, but as if they are viewed from many angels and in varied circumstances. It may appear as realistic but it is not.

What time of day do you think it is? What season do you think it is?

Talk about the colors used in this print and elaborate on the art of how woodblock prints are made.

Activities for the Classroom

During the presentation play an oceans sound CD in the background.

Using the idea of landscapes, give the children each a piece of paper, then ask them to draw or paint a "classroomscape" — a view of their classroom, as they see it from their seats.

Show other prints, like the Waterfall, and let the students compare the landscapes. Focus the discussion on mood, colors, style, etc. Compare woodblock printing to traditional painting, what is the same? What is different?

Ask the children to draw their own fisherman picture, reminding them that fishing was a very important part of the lives of many Japanese people in those days.

Ask the children to draw their own seascape, then allow for time for some of the students to explain their drawing.

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