I've noticed every time we leave, that there are t-shirts, post cards, and coffee mugs stamped with one of my favorite images: The Great Wave off Kanagawa. I've known this print since I lived in Japan many years ago; it's one of Hokusai's 36 Views of Mount Fuji. Though I've never seen one of the original prints, copies are also ubiquitous in Japan. I figured that they must have a print somewhere in the museum, so we spent part of Friday looking through the Asian art sections of the Institute.
Unfortunately, we didn't find it.
Because of the delicate nature of the many of the prints, they are rotated every three months.
It did get me thinking though: what is it about this image that is so compelling? In Japan, Mount Fuji holds religious and national significance; Mr. Hokusai was not the only artist to give us 36 views (check our Mr. Hiroshige as well). But something about this particular image -- The Great Wave, the Little Boats, and the image of the mountain in the background -- speaks the truth to me.
It's an Advent truth, and this is Advent. It's the truth of the Great Waves: whether they are the Great Waves of the End Times, or the Great Waves of economic uncertainty, or the Great Waves of terrorists in Mumbai, India, or the Great Waves that killed a store worker on Black Friday. Everywhere Great Waves threaten us, rock us, cause us to stumble.
And still, in the background, there is the mountain. Sometimes, you can't even see it. Sometimes we see it only by faith. It seems to disappear in the fog, like Mt. Fuji in certain seasons. But every Japanese knows that the mountain is still there.
On Friday, I didn't find the print of the Great Wave off Kanagawa. But I think I caught a glimpse of the mountain, once or twice, up close or in the background.
The question is, did you? And if you did, perhaps you can point the way for those who are overwhelmed by the Great Waves.