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The Hokusai Manga (北斎漫画?, "Hokusai's Sketches") is a collection of sketches of various subjects by the Japanese artist Hokusai. Subjects of the sketches include landscapes, flora and fauna, everyday life and the supernatural. The word manga in the title does not refer to the contemporary story-telling manga, as the sketches in the work are not connected to each other. Block-printed in three colours (black, gray and pale flesh), the Manga comprise literally thousands of images in 15 volumes, the first published in 1814, when the artist was 55. The final three volumes were published posthumously, two of them assembled by their publisher from previously unpublished material. The final volume was made up of previously published works, some not even by Hokusai, and is not considered authentic by art historians.

Publication history

The preface to the first volume of the work, written by Hanshu Sanjin (半洲散人), a minor artist of Nagoya, suggests that the publication of the work may be aided by Hokusai's pupils. Part of the preface reads:[1]

This autumn the master [Hokusai] happened to visit the Western Province and stopped over at our city [Nagoya]. We all met together with the painter Gekkotei Bokusen (月光亭墨僊) [Utamasa II, well-known Nagoya artist, pupil of Hokusai’s, and collator of Hokusai’s later work] at the latter’s residence, it being a very joyous occasion. And there over three hundred sketches of all kinds were made – from immortals, Buddhas, scholars, and women on down to birds, beasts, grasses, and trees, the spirit of each captured fully by the brush.

The final volume is considered spurious by some art historians.[2]

Sources of the Manga

File:Hokusai Manga 01.jpg

A page from the Manga, showing people with their faces hidden

The traditional view holds that, after the outburst of production, Hokusai carefully selected and redrew the sketches, arranging them into the patterns we see today. However, Michener (1958:30-34) argues that the pattern of the images on a particular plate were arranged by the wood carvers and publishers, not by the artist himself.


The Manga evidence a dedication to artistic realism in portrayal of people and the natural world. The work was an immediate success, and the subsequent volumes soon followed. The work became known to the West since Philipp Franz van Siebold's lithographed paraphrases of some of the sketches appeared in his Nippon: Archiv zur Beschreibung von Japon in 1831. The work began to circulate in the West soon after Matthew C. Perry's entry into Japan in 1854.[3]


  1. Michener, p. 13
  2. Hillier, p. 100
  3. Hillier, p. 107 and 110


  • Bouquillard, Jocelyn and Marquet, Christopher (2007). Nash, Liz trans. Hokusai: First Manga Master. New York: Harry N. Abrams, Inc. ISBN 0810993414.
  • Hillier, Jack R. (1980). The Art of Hokusai in Book Illustration. London: Sotheby Parke Bernet; Berkeley, Calif.: University of California Press.
  • Michener, James A. (1958). Hokusai Sketchbooks: Selections from the Manga. Rutland, Vermont & Tokyo: Charles E. Tuttle Company.

External links


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