A Vague Thought



‘Great Wave Off Kanagawa’, ‘La Vague d’Hokusai’ or ‘The Wave’ – by Katushika Hokusai (1760 – 1849) an artist and printmaker of the Edo or classical period. Hokusai was a prolific artist, and his paintings were popular in his lifetime, and in Europe and have become world famous since. It has been said that Monet was deeply influenced by Hokusai. He originated Hokusai Manga (manga = random drawings, so no connection with the modern usage of manga), a body of reference for other artists (some fifteen volumes).

In this painting, the waves have claws and are menacing, the humans in tiny boats are, by comparison, vulnerable and at the mercy of nature. Mt. Fuji in the background also dominates, the only natural thing not threatened by the water.

The connection to vague is of course the French translation = a wave of panic swept over me. So, in French the title implies what the painting is showing, the wave about to sweep over the fishermen.

Hokusai was concerned for the decline of society and was also seeing the end of the classical period. The painting shows judgement, the wave about to sweep over the fishermen and the community was a judgement on the people. I would retitle it – Nature Strikes Back.

The perspective of Hokusai is striking, because he is commnicating that the way Japanese society was behaving – it could not, should not continue.

But that is more real for us today because we have intervened in nature, with chemicals, polution, clearing, salinity, depletion of species, nature can strike back as a result of the changes it faces. Researchers have long been saying that weather patterns are changing, rainfall has changed, the earth’s atmosphere is warming. The positive is that there are many who are working hard to get our attention and change that.

In a more personal sense the painting speaks of consequences, if we don’t care for ourselves, if we don’t check our excesses, if we don’t care for others, then there are consequences that will affect us. Without reflective time, without some quiet within the daily, without healthy diet and exercise, without love and loving, without the capacity to listen and to share, to be creative, we are at risk of life sweeping over us with claws waiting to consume us. Mindfulness is not a mystery, it simply learning to to put our ego drive away and focus on the real self and its potential and relations. to use a cliche – stop and smell the roses.

But unlike the fishermen in the painting we are not at the mercy of such things, we can (we must) stop and take time, and we can work together on the crises that seem to surround us. And not in the least to begin to challenge the work ethic which will consume us first if we don’t.

Nature rises up
the claws of consequence
time to paint




Filed under art, history, life, mindfulness, nature

33 responses to “A Vague Thought

  1. I love art and how it says so much, also so many different things .
    I’ve seen this painting often and never actually thought about the meaning.
    Thanks for making me think!

    Liked by 2 people

  2. After a fashion the artist was correct. While societies continue they are forever changed by outside influences. Some will integrate change, some will reject change, while others will forget whence they came.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. I am simply captivated by that painting! And even more so with your description of its back story. Great post

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Nasuko

    Hokusai is a symbol of the Edo period.
    The Tokugawa Shogunate for 150 years ruled
    In edo era,ordinary ppl life were most lively,culture and entertainment were very very lively☺️


    • Nasuko

      Hokusai’s Drawing is nature observation power and composition precision.
      “Hook” of the wave of Hokusai means the dynamism of the ocean and the magnitude of the observation power of the waves.
      Europe was a religious feeling that God created the human world, Japan is completely different. That is appearing in Hokusai’s manga.☺️

      Liked by 1 person

      • Nasuko

        Edo era 150 years → 260 years.
        In the history of Japan, the shogunate and the Imperial court repeated power struggle. Also, the Japanese who went abroad during the Edo Period had a sense of crisis due to the war (colonial rule) occurring in Europe and the “dangers” of Christianity propagation.etc..w
        Preparedness for defense forces began in Japan .
        The British Navy and others are Japanese models.☺️

        Liked by 1 person

      • Many thanks for this – great to have your input.

        Liked by 1 person

      • I would like to have met him. Thanks for this.

        Liked by 1 person

    • Yes, and what a time it would have been 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  5. I had once written a poem on this image

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Nasuko

    stop and smell the roses

    I don’t know this,How Excellent!
    Great thanks☺️🌸🌸🌸

    Liked by 1 person

  7. well done, love your description and the analogy that is so relevant to us!

    Liked by 1 person

  8. MNL

    I love Hokusai. Amazing artist and very prolific too. I enjoyed the way you found meaning in his ukiyo-e as a comment on modern life.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Hi Paul, lovely post. I might note that this is not a painting. It is often stated as a painting but it is a woodblock print. Sort of like the diff between say a poem and a novel. I reblogged as this is so beautifully written. Cheers! – Douglas

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Lyn Cannon

    This fits well with your Ghandi article and equally inspiring


    Liked by 1 person

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