When LIFE magazine put out a list of “The 100 Most Important Events and People of the Past 1000 Years”, the only Japanese person to make the cut was Katsushika Hokusai, whose works were loved even by other artists such as Van Gogh, Monet, and Degas. Hokusai’s “Thirty-Six Views of Mount Fuji” has been so continuously popular that it will even be used as an upcoming design on Japanese passports and banknotes.
But despite his overwhelming popularity, his life is shrouded in mystery. In an era where average the life span was 40 years old, he lived a long life until age 90. So how did he live his life?
Edo was a place where the townsman culture flourished. In a dark corner of the city, there lived a poor painter. His name was Katsukawa Shunro, later to be known as Katsushika Hokusai.
His insolence got him expelled from his art studio by his master, and then there were many days where he was forced to go hungry. But one day, an opportunity came to Hokusai that would change his life.
Tsutaya Juzaburo was a renowned publisher who made the careers of artists like Utamaro and Sharaku, and he could see Hokusai’s hidden talent.
With Juzaburo’s encouragement, Hokusai learned the essence of art, and his talent blossomed. He produced revolutionary, unparalleled prints one after another, and became a hugely popular artist almost overnight. His fantastic worldview swept over Edo in the blink of an eye. Hokusai was now advancing the townsman culture even further. But eventually, he would also attract the ire of the shogunate…