One of Hokusai’s series Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji, Mishima Pass in Kai Province comments upon the small scale of human existence as measured against nature. Three travelers try in vain to wrap their arms around a massive cryptomeria tree, which is, in turn, a trifle relative to the enormous mountain that looms in the background.
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.