Ar sixty-three, the artist Hokusai paused. What a career to look
back upon! Mad about drawing since the age of six, he had found the
training he needed to develop his talent. In early boyhood he had
been apprenticed to a wood engraver m his home city, Edo (the
present-day Tokyo). From 1778, when he was eighteen, he had studied
figure drawing, color, and design with the master Shunsho and other
artists of the ukiyo-e school, those printmakers who depicted the
passing scene so deftly for their eager customers: the merchants,
the craftsmen, the minor officials, the common people of feudal Japan.
Ever curious, ever seeking, Hokusai had even studied such diverse
forms of art as Chinese painting and Western perspective drawing. As
his skill grew, he had turned out a prodigious number of woodblock
prints, from sketches to greeting cards to book illustrations; from
bird and flower impressions to studies of sumo wrestlers, famous
actors, and beautiful women. Surely by that climactic year of 1823
he had accomplished all that any ambitious ukiyo-e artist could hope
All? At an age when a man rests on his laurels, Hokusai conceived
his first great original project: the set of colored prints called
Thirty-six Views oj Mt. Fuji.
What an idea to stir the imagination—a series of landscapes diverse
yet unified by relating every scene to the sacred mountain! And how
well suited to the genius of this artist! Hokusai had by this time
lived m many places, looked at his world from many points of view.
He had produced a multitude of sketches—of natural objects from
lizards to lotus blossoms; of human beings m every kind of
situation; of scenes bv land and sea. Now he was ready to meet a new
challenge: could he relate such details to a theme, select and
organize them, without losing the vigor of a first impression? He
proved that indeed he could. The Views, issued between 1823 and
1830, became at once widely and deservedly popular. Ten more prints
were added, for a total of forty-six. (We print here a selected
group of twenty-four.)
Hokusai's Views of Mt. Fuji are superb landscapes.
They are also landscapes with a difference. The people 111 them arc
not mere elements of the design but are individuals related to their
surroundings and revealed in all the awkwardness, intensity, and
vitality of active life. Yet 111 each print they take on a dimension
a little larger than life, become part of a single overmastering
impression, tantalizing and beautiful.
Almost one hundred years after the Views first appeared, a young
officer of the American Red Cross, stationed in Tokyo as part of a
tour of duty m the Far East, bought a souvenir booklet of
reproductions of the prints. To Easley Stephen Jones, born in the
Middle West, a student of English and American literature, Japan had
opened unimagined vistas. He had felt increasing delight in the
natural beauty of the country and in glimpses of the people and
their patterns of living, so different from any he had known. (In
these later years, how many Americans have experienced a similar
delight?) As he traveled about, he recorded his impressions. Of Mt.
Fuji, he wrote:
"Straight before me lies the deep valley of the Kanagawa. At the
back of the valley, on my right, higher than the white clouds and
floating blue-vapors, is Fujiyama. From base to summit his full
figure is visible, in outline beautiful like the curve of wings. Not
even near his summit can the clouds attain, but hover m the blue
valleys at his feet."
When he returned to the United States in ro.22 to resume college
teaching and to write textbooks in English composition, Easley Jones
did not forget about Japan. Musing over Ins souvenir prints, he
found that the Views touched chords in his memory,
teased Ins poetic imagination. He took up His pen.
"That's the mountain, sacred, shimmering, blue . . ." he
wrote of Fuji seen through the eyes of a group of Hokusai pilgrims.
Other scenes touched other chords:
Some folk imagine a bridge is made to cross,
But no, a loftier theme.
It is for those who loiter, brood, and dream.
The comic in Hokusai appealed to him, brought recollections of a
Do people go to the temple any more?
Oh yes, to dig clams. . . .
Then, in more lyrical vein:
Over the waves the ferryman
Cradles his motley caravan. . . .
At this point Easley Jones too felt a challenge: could he write a
poem to go with every one of the prints? To the delight of his
family and friends, he did. The poems were not published, however,
but were put aside while the author continued to cultivate enjoyment
or Japanese life and art through collecting old prints and
Today for the first time a selection of his poems, together with
copies of the prints they celebrate, is offered to a public freshly
aware of the beauty he long cherished.
Agnes L. Jacobs