2017…is a making me long for places I’ve been. A walk on our local path through the neighborhood park on a drizzly day, yet under a bursting cherry tree, made the dense clouds of 2017 disperse. Last weekend we saw the Japanese Photography show at SF MOMA. Last December, we were lucky enough to catch a pop-up show at PACE Art + Technology from the futuristic Japanese design collaborative teamLab called Living Digital Space and Future Parks. The large-scale installation was a multi-room environment spanning 20,000ft² and showcasing 20 digital works.
All of my imagined paths lead to Hokusai, in my eyes the master of serenity, and Katsushika Hokusai leads…to Mt. Fuji. Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji (image below) (富嶽三十六景, Fugaku Sanjūrokkei) is a ukiyo-e series of large, color wood-block prints Hokusai created both as a response to a domestic travel boom and as part of a personal obsession with Mount Fuji.
Katsushikahokusai.org: Hokusai had a long career, but he produced most of his important work after age 60. His most popular work is the ukiyo-e series, Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji, which was created between 1826 and 1833. It actually consists of 46 prints (10 of them added after publication). In addition, he is responsible for the 1834 One Hundred Views of Mount Fuji (富嶽百景 Fugaku Hyakkei), a work which, “is generally considered the masterpiece among his landscape picture books.” His ukiyo-e transformed the art form from a style of portraiture focused on the courtesans and actors popular during the Edo Period in Japan’s cities, into a much broader style of art that focused on landscapes, plants, and animals.
In the postscript to this work, Hokusai writes: “From around the age of six, I had the habit of sketching from life. I became an artist, and from fifty on began producing works that won some reputation, but nothing I did before the age of seventy was worthy of attention. At seventy-three, I began to grasp the structures of birds and beasts, insects and fish, and of the way plants grow. If I go on trying, I will surely understand them still better by the time I am eighty-six, so that by ninety I will have penetrated to their essential nature. At one hundred, I may well have a positively divine understanding of them, while at one hundred and thirty, forty, or more I will have reached the stage where every dot and every stroke I paint will be alive. May Heaven, that grants long life, give me the chance to prove that this is no lie.”
Sometimes called the “Father of Modernsim,” Hokusai’s brilliant influence spoke loudly, Monet owned 23 Hokusai prints.
The beautiful, symmetrical shape of the stratovolcano Mount Fuji …
Mount Fuji, Japanese Fuji-san, also spelled Fujisan, also called Fujiyama or Fuji no Yama, is the highest mountain in Japan. It rises to 12,388 feet (3,776 metres) near the Pacific Ocean coast in Yamanashi and Shizuoka ken (prefectures) of central Honshu, about 60 miles (100 km) west of the Tokyo-Yokohama metropolitan area. It is a volcano that has been dormant since its last eruption, in 1707, but is still generally classified as active by geologists. The mountain is the major feature of Fuji-Hakone-Izu National Park (1936), and it is at the centre of a UNESCO World Heritage site designated in 2013.
The origin of the mountain’s name is uncertain. It first appears as Fuji no Yama in Hitachi no kuni fudoki (713 A.D.), an early government record. Among multiple theories about the source of the name is that it is derived from an Ainu term meaning “fire,” coupled with san, the Japanese word for “mountain.” The Chinese ideograms (kanji) now used to write Fuji connote more of a sense of good fortune or well being.
One famous fujitale is the 10th-century novel Taketori Monogatari. It tells the story of a mysterious baby found in the forest by a bamboo cutter. Having no children of their own, the bamboo cutter and his wife take in the strange baby girl and name her “Princess Kaguya.” The girl grows up in just three months, and her beauty attracts many suitors, including the emperor. However, Kaguya does not choose any of them and eventually flies off to her home, the Moon. Although she forsakes Earth, she does leave the emperor a few parting gifts, including the elixir of life. But the emperor is heartbroken at losing Kaguya and doesn’t wish to live forever without her. He orders that all the gifts, including the elixir, be burned on the mountain closest to the Moon. According to the story, that mountain is then named Mount Fuji, or the “Mountain of Immortality,” because it is the home of the elixir of life.
Some research dates the volcano being formed in 286 B.C., by an earthquake. The truth is somewhat more complex. The age of Fuji is disputed, believed to have formed during the past 2.6 million years on a base dating from up to 65 million years ago; the first eruptions and the first peaks probably occurred some 600,000 years ago. The present-day mountain is a composite of three successive volcanoes: at the bottom is Komitake, which was surmounted by Ko Fuji (“Old Fuji”) and, finally, by the most recent, Shin Fuji (“New Fuji”). Over the millennia, the lava and other ejecta from Ko Fuji covered most of Komitake, although the top of the latter’s cone continued to protrude from the slope of Ko Fuji. Shin Fuji probably first became active about 10,000 years ago and has continued ever since to smolder, or erupt occasionally. In the process it has filled in the slopes of its two predecessors and added the summit zone, producing the mountain’s now nearly perfect tapered form.
You can view Mt. Fuji in all it’s changing forms, fujicam style, live, here:
Legend has it that the first person to climb Mount Fuji was an anonymous monk in 663 A.D. Up until the Meiji era in the late 19th century, only men were allowed to climb to the summit. Others say the first westerner to climb Mount Fuji was Sir Rutherford Alcock, in September 1860; and seven years later, the first western woman, Fanny Parkes, ascended to the peak. Each year, more than 100,000 people attempt to climb to the top of Mount Fuji, making it the most popular mountain in the world for climbing. No small wonders…from cherry blossoms in San Francisco and in Kawazu…to the equanimity of Hokusai…around the bowl of Mt. Fuji…spring harbingers to all Boulevardiers.