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Katsushika Hokusai, Japan's best known artist, is ironically Japan's least Japanese artist. Japan's best known woodblock print, The Great Wave, is very un-Japanese. Find out about the artist often known as Hokusai. 

Hokusai was born on the 23rd day of the 9th month of the 10th year of the Tokugawa period (October or November 1760) to an artisan family, in the Katsushika district of Edo (now Tokyo), Japan. His childhood name was Tokitaro. It is believed that his father was the mirror-maker Nakajima Ise, who produced mirrors for the shogun. His father never made Hokusai an heir, so it's possible that his mother was a concubine. Hokusai began painting around the age of six, possibly learning the art from his father, whose work on mirrors also included the painting of designs around the mirrors. 

At the age of 12, he was sent by his father to work in a bookshop and library, a popular type of institution in Japanese cities, where reading books made from wood-cut blocks was a popular entertainment of the middle and upper classes. At 14, he became an apprentice to a wood-carver, where he worked until the age of 18. 

In a Japan of traditional Confucian values and feudal regimentation, Hokusai was a thoroughly Bohemian artist: cocky, quarrelsome, restless, aggressive, & sensational. He fought with his teachers & was often thrown out of art schools. As a stubborn artistic genius, he was single-mindedly obsessed with art. Hokusai left over 30,000 works, including silk paintings, woodblock prints, picture books, manga, travel illustrations, erotic illustrations, paintings, & sketches. Some of his paintings were public spectacles which measured over 200 sq. metres. He didn't care much for being sensible or social respect; he signed one of his last works as "The Art-Crazy Old Man". In his 89 years, Hokusai changed his name some thirty times & lived in at least ninety homes. Although the use of multiple names was a common practice of Japanese artists of the time, the numbers of names he used far exceeds that of any other major Japanese artist. Hokusai's name changes are so frequent, and so often related to changes in his artistic production and style, that they are useful for breaking his life up into periods.

During the 600-year Shogun period, Japan had sealed itself off from the rest of the world. Contact with Western culture was forbidden. Nevertheless, Hokusai discovered and studied the European copper-plate engravings that were being smuggled into the country. Here he learned about shading, colouring, realism, and landscape perspective. He introduced all of these elements into woodblock and thus revolutionized & invigorated Japanese art.

He became increasingly famous, both due to his artwork and his talent for self-promotion. During a Tokyo festival in 1804, he created a portrait of the Buddhist priest Daruma said to be 600 feet (180 m) long using a broom and buckets full of ink. Another story places him in the court of the Shogun, invited there to compete with another artist who practiced more traditional brush stroke painting. Hokusai's painting, created in front of the Shogun, consisted of painting a blue curve on paper, then chasing a rooster across it whose feet had been dipped in red paint. He described the painting to the Shogun as a landscape showing the Tatsuta River with red maple leaves floating in it, winning the competition.

Task 1. Choose a synonym in each row:












c) handle contraband




c) prevent




c) enthusiasm









Task 2. Choose the appropriate ending to the sentence:

1. Hokusai’s father never made him a heir because …

a) the son disobeyed him. b) he was very poor. c) the son was illegitimate.

2. Hokusai was sent to a bookshop and library …

a) to entertain purchasers from the middle & upper classes.

b) to read books to the customers from the upper classes.

c) to toil in a prevalent establishment.

3. The artist-to-be was habitually dispelled due to …

a) his Confucian views. b) his confrontational conduct. c) his reluctance to study.


4. "The Art-Crazy Old Man” means …

a) Hokusai. b) manga. c) sensational.

5. The Japanese artist transformed the art due to …

a) multiple changing of his name. b) leaving enormous number of masterpieces.

c) introduction of banned culture.

6. Hokusai Katsushika was the first artist to use … for painting his pictures.

a) living creatures; b) brush stroke; c) buckets of ink

7. Hokusai created more than … works during his life.

a) 100,000; b) 25, 000; c) 3,000

Task 3. True or false

1. The most famous picture of Hokusai Katsushika was made on silk.

2. Tokitaro was six when he started to paint

3. The painter travelled a lot.

4. Manga is the name of Hokusai’s famous sketch.

5. The painter altered his appellation very frequent.

6. Hokusai & his friends smuggled western etching to Japan.

7. Hokusai won the artistic competition having painted the Shogun’s portrait.

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