Riding the Rip Tide: Hokusai's Great Wave Tattoos

Riding the Rip Tide: Hokusai's Great Wave Tattoos

Perhaps one of the most famous Japanese ukiyo-e prints, Hokusai's Great Wave tattoos will never go out of style.

Not only one of the most famous prints ever to be created, but also one of the most popular tattoos to date, Hokusai's Great Wave tattoos are always beautiful to look at and diverse in their creation. The full name is The Great Wave off Kanagawa or 神奈川沖浪裏 Kanagawa-oki nami ura, "Under a wave off Kanagawa", also known as The Great Wave or simply The Wave; though it has many names, even the simple mention of a wave is enough to denote which print you speak of! It is a woodblock print, but has not only been reproduced as countless tattoos, but prints, shirts, socks, and more.

In Ukiyo-e printing nature was often used as inspiration for designs, and obviously this is no different. Hokusai depicted many natural scenes, of varying seasons and weather conditions, around the area of Mount Fuji; you can actually see the mountain peering through the rough waves within the print. Just as all of the collectors who requested these Great Wave tattoos are wonderful admirers of Hokusai's work, so too was Claude Monet. You can still see an original print of the piece in his home in Giverny. Hokusai actually did 36 prints depicting the area around Mount Fuji, and the Great Wave is the most well-known.

Born to an artisan family, Hokusai's father is purported to be a mirror maker whose works also included painted frames for these mirrors. Hokusai probably picked up some painting skills from his father, however he also worked in a book making studio and lending library where he picked up the skills to do wood working. Carving the wood for prints is how artists of the Ukiyo-e period created much of the prints we love today, including the Great Wave tattoos! It is also how he created his second most well-known Shunga piece, The Dream of the Fisherman's Wife.

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