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The appreciation of local art and culture has found an enormous platform in the digital world. Through the power of technology, Japanese art is able to create an impact on the global contemporary audience and still preserve its ancient values. One of Japan’s iconic pieces of art is The Great Wave off Kanagawa, commonly recognized as the country’s famous wave painting. 

Its road to fame began when thousands of physical copies were replicated and sold in the market during the late Edo period. Today, it remains to be a renowned work that inspires modern art forms and designs. The Great Wave remains a timeless influence that continues to transcend different art periods throughout history.

Why is The Great Wave famous?

The Great Wave off Kanagawa

After recovering from centuries of civil war under the feudal power of emperors, Japanese art was given a pedestal to flourish during the Edo period, paving the way for large productions of work from different artists with their own distinctive styles. Works that depicted peaceful and prosperous lives were highly sought after by the elite as a return to normalcy after times of constant warfare. 

The Great Wave was created during the early years of the 19th century. The print was so compelling to the public not just because of its visually appealing seascape motif, but more importantly for its connection to the sacredness of Mount Fuji. Throughout history, the beauty of this landscape has heavily influenced and inspired Shintoism and Buddhism. 

As practitioners expressed their profound faith in daily life, inspired artworks were very much welcomed and supported wholeheartedly by the community. Prints of The Great Wave continued to spread even with the imposed restrictions in trade. When cities began to embrace modernization and urban life, the industry of art experienced a surge of popularity under the blossoming growth of tourism.

The Life of Hokusai 

Edo Art

Many people don’t know that it was not until his 70’s that the great Katsushika ​​Hokusai birthed The Great Wave into the world. At a young age, he was exposed to wood-cut blocks carved into books, paintings, and prints. Hokusai spent his early years learning this craft from a woodcarver where he developed his own take of woodblock prints. 

He was greatly inspired by the artistic style of the French and the Dutch during his time in the Shunsho studio. Later in his life, he was able to increase his published collections and gain attention from fellow artists and the public. 

The Great Wave off Kanagawa was the very first print of his series called The Thirty-Six Views of Mount Fuji which he worked on from 1830 until 1832. Hokusai believed that this was the moment he began creating works that were important and deserving of attention. The prints that he published in his lifetime were characterized by his integration of European art influence and his mastery of a new perspective in the Ukiyo-e art style.

The Ukiyo-e Art Genre

Ukiyo-e Art

The Great Wave’s art style is always tied to the world of the Ukiyo-e art genre. Originally, woodblock prints and paintings depicted how city life was in the Edo period. This included people and their surroundings mainly people in the emerging higher classes of their society – actors, geishas, sumo wrestlers, mistresses, and Samurai warriors. The Great Wave was a result of Hokusai’s attempt to break away from the traditional elements of Ukiyo-e taught during his years of education. 

When the Shogun ordered the suppression of public displays of luxurious life, artists started to shift their focus to different subjects. Instead of human portraits demonstrating leisure and pleasure districts, Hokusai decided to use sceneries and landscapes as a new subject. Fully-colored portraits of Ukiyo-e art usually consist of a combination of bright and neutral colors. 

Hokusai made The Great Wave stand out by using a dark blue pigment called Prussian Blue to capture the realistic tone of waves crashing in the ocean. Ultimately, the development of Ukiyo-e was shaped by the exchange of knowledge with Western culture. This opened the door for succeeding art to be accessed and known by the audience outside of Japan.

Significance of The Wave in the 21st Century

From the “great Hokusai wave,” it is evident how cultural exchange and modernization can definitely go a long way. The preservation of this artwork made it possible for different people of different backgrounds to experience a connection with their respective beliefs and preferences. At the same time, it created an open dialogue for diverse interpretations of the artist’s intended message.

The Great Wave is one of Japan’s greatest cultural identities, and it continues to inspire the global audience to build a history that will leave a legacy for future generations to see.

Inspired by The Great Wave

The Internet has made it easier to discover and learn about The Great Wave than ever before. Even if you are unfamiliar with this work of art, it is likely that you have seen an image of The Great Wave in other forms. It can still be seen today in its original form but it has also been adapted countless times into modern-day cultural adaptations.


The features have made The Great Wave easy enough to be inserted in memes to hilarious effect.

Popular Culture

The Great Wave continues to influence the many aspects of pop culture. The blending of pop culture icons or existing design styles onto the signature seascape motifs is a visual homage.

Dragon Ball
Dragon Ball
Cookie Monster
Godzilla vs. The Great Wave
Vaporwave Great Wave
The Great Wave Off Cat-a-gawa


The Great Wave is still a fresh and colourful emblem that visually inspires modern design.

8-bit Great Wave
The Great Lego Wave Off Kanagawa

About Aaron Ang

Aaron is a 20-year old college student who loves Pokemon, video games. and kpop (especially Twice and Loona!) He writes articles about East Asian culture and makes commentaries on pop culture. When not writing, he practices kpop dance routines or hangs out on Discord. His dream is to work at Disney or Nintendo one day!