Katsushika Hokusai 1760-1849

Pictures of 100 poems by 100 poets, explained by a Wet Nurse
Visipix.com proudly presents Hokusais last great series as complete as possible
(89 pictures) in facsimile quality in the original Oban-size 15 x 10 inch.


Poem number 31
Sakanoue no Korenori 10th century, poet

The original poem:
At the break of day,
Just as though the morning moon
Lightened the dim scene,
Yoshino's fair hamlet lay
In a haze of falling snow.

A situational poem by HK:
What a joy it is to have a hamlet and a fire and also a hot bath made up with thick wooden logs to keep the winter out with its haze of silently falling snow. For this it is well worth to go out early and to work hard out in the cold.

Comment by HK:
I think that Hokusai tells me that men can turn into bears when it is necessary for survival. In fact human beings can turn into almost anything.

Poem number 32
Harumichi no Tsuraki, in 920 he became governor of Ichi

The original poem:
In a mountain stream,
Builded by the busy wind,
Is a wattled-barrier drawn.
Yet 'tis only maple leaves
Powerless to flow away.

A situational poem by HK:
Maple leaves flow pleasantly with the river. They are powerless and any child can stop them like nothing. But when they pile up to a barrier, anything can happen and a bridge may suddenly be washed away.

Comment by HK:
Early in his artists life, Hokusai noticed that only few people have the gift to see things, to observe scenes and transform visual impressions into thoughts. He found that he has to educate his picture-buying audience. The 15 volumes of his very successful Mangas (see the integral facsimiles in visipix.com) show these efforts. In this picture Hokusai teaches the main methods of turning weak power into strong power.
  • Determined guidance: A mother guiding her little son over the bridge, making sure he is safe
  • Transfer and accumulation of knowledge: The son applies the same principles on his turtle.
  • Teaching: The father has drilled hole into the turtles shell, inserted a string and made a knot. The son learned a lot.
  • Hierarchical multilevel control structure. This is the Konfuzian basis of the Japanese and the Chinese societies. The Emperor guides the administration guiding provinces, guiding clans, guiding mothers, guiding sons guiding turtles. By the way, some mythologies say that the world is indeed a turtle which is stabilised by a snake forming an immense knot around it.
  • Precision work, workmans skills, endurance in hard labor. It takes all this just to cut a useful piece of wood. Cutting lumber is an extremely demanding job, maybe taking more skill than landing a 747 during a gale. Let me tell you that your saw hates to follow a straight line and dreams of cutting your leg off. In the 36 views of the Fuji, Hokusai shows tandem sawing. That is not so difficult. Here he shows successful single man sawing.
  • Group bundling. A single dead maple leaf may lack the power to follow the stream. The "group effect" of thousands of dead leaves is unlimited. Together they can block a waterway and create havoc. It is something people near waterways fear very much.
  • Well defined responsibilities of all persons
  • Precaution on small events: A man is fishing dead maple leaves out of the water.
  • Perfecting the tools: One man of three sharpens a saw. More and more the preparation of the tools is the much bigger effort than doing the final work.
  • Everything is orderly: The pile of wood, the mats, the baskets.
After all that: What looks powerless may not be powerless at all.

Hokusai was not aware of the opposite of hierarchy: Flat structures of self organisation in large groups such as insect populations guided by collective intelligence. Also in democracy and free markets according to Adam Smith who could have been teaching Hokusai the secrets of the "invisible hand". That lecture beats all ghost stories.

Poem number 33
Ki no Tomonori 850-905, famous writer

The original poem:
In the cheerful light
Of the ever-shining Sun,
In the days of spring;
Why, with ceaseless, restless haste
Falls the cherry's new-blown bloom?

A situational poem by HK:
Every spring the boats are taken out of the water, then they dry in the sun and the planks can be sealed again. Hot flames are needed to melt the wood pitch. While the men are working, the warm sun makes the cherry trees bloom, but after a very short time, the bloom is gone before the men have finished their work and would notice natures wonders.

Comment by HK:
The poem laments that people are too busy to notice the beauty of the cherry trees in full sunshine. And when they have time, the bloom is over. This is the main theme of Hokusai. People do not see. He has to teach them. The women must bring wood and turn their backs towards the bloom. Even the little boy already plays hiding games instead of looking games. Instead of admiring cherry blossoms, he hides from the women where they cannot see him, but he also cannot see much. In this context Hokusai asks a serious slang question: "who the hell looks at them blossoms?"

Of course, Hokusai questions the nostalgic refined noble persons culture of Japan in the new times of increasing efficiency, of finances and industrialisation.

Poem number 34
Fujiwara no Okikaze 10th century, poet and politician

The original poem:
Whom then are there now,
In my age so far advanced
I can hold as friends?
Even Takasago's pines
Are not friends of former days.

A situational poem by HK:
I try to see the old pine as a friend. Like me it can only keep up nowadays with the support of his sticks. But most friends of former days have gone by now. The younger people are keeping up happy company among themselves. You, my dear pine tree can not be my close friend because I have walking sticks, and you have only immobile support sticks.

Comment by HK:
Hokusai shows a historic pine tree which has always been understood to impersonate a powerful old wise man. To me this tree is undoubtedly a self portrait of Hokusai. Not more not less. There is no story going on under the tree, also not in the two love birds. The tree has been growing horizontally into the world. That activity has become old and needs support sticks. The main activity goes with great intensity skywards straight into heaven.

I see strong relationships of character between Rembrandt, van Gogh and Hokusai. They all used their selfportraits to explore themselves. Visipix.com has discovered a self-portrait of Hokusai as a shishi, a Chinese lion. Now also as a pine tree. Vincent van Gogh said that art is nature with persons in it - visible or not visible. If they are not there, the scales and proportions of the human beings should be visible.

Poem number 35
Ki no Tsurayuki 868-946, very famous poet

The original poem:
No! no! As for man,
How his heart is none can tell,
But the plum's sweet flower
In my birthplace, as of yore,
Still emits the same perfume.

A situational poem by HK:
You are welcome my friend, have your bags unpacked and make yourself comfortably in what is now again your home. However, how can I know your heart after such a long absence? True, it was you who had planted the plum tree and its smell is still the same.

Comment by HK:
Friendship is like a tree. In a specific environment, on its soil it develops its own character, appearance, face and perfume. In the poem and the picture a noble person travelled in his sedan and visits a friend whom he has not seen for many years. Long years ago he had planted a plum tree. The poet asks if in their hearts the persons have changed more than the plum tree and its perfume.

>> Poems (36 - 40)