Fuji from Goten-yama Hill at Shinagawa on the Tokaido looks to Japan’s highest peak from across Sagami Bay. In the foreground samurai and ordinary townspeople cavort beneath cherry trees transplanted from Yoshino during the 17th century. The print is one of Hokusai’s series Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji, the artist’s indisputable masterpiece and the most famous series to feature the mountain.
Believed to hold the secret of immortality, Mount Fuji held special significance for Hokusai, who pined for the years necessary to perfect his art. In the postscript to One Hundred Views of Mount Fuji he wrote:
“From the age of six, I had a passion for copying the form of things and since the age of fifty I have published many drawings, yet of all I drew by my seventieth year there is nothing worth taking in to account. At seventy-three years I partly understood the structure of animals, birds, insects and fishes, and the life of grasses and plants. And so, at eighty-six I shall progress further; at ninety I shall even further penetrate their secret meaning, and by one hundred I shall perhaps truly have reached the level of the marvelous and divine. When I am one hundred and ten, each dot, each line will possess a life of its own.”
Though Hokusai did not live past 88, the artistic immortality that he did achieve owes more to Fuji than to any other motif.