Re: 36 views of Mt. Fuji

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Posted by Hans Olof Johansson on December 14, 1997 at 22:06:01:

In Reply to: 36 views of Mt. Fuji posted by cary allen on December 09, 1997 at 20:25:26:

: What is the story on 36 views of Fuji? Was there some competitiveness
: between Hokusai and Hiroshige on this? Both seem to have done a series,or
: maybe more than one as some of Hiroshige's have a legend that indicates the one and only
: 36 views.Or i could be reading it wrong. Is there anything magical about
: the number 36?

"The Chinese, and the Japanese following in their train, yield to no other nation in their love for the more or less artificial grouping in numbered series of interrelated subjects." (Albert J Koop & Hogitarō Inada, Japanese Names and How to Read Them. A Manual for Art-Collectors and Students..., Routledge & Kegan Paul 1972, p 97.)

The numerical categories, referred to by Koop and Inada, are very common in titles of ukiyo-e print series: The 53 Stations of Tōkaidō, The 100 Views of Edo, Eight Views of Lake Biwa, 100 Poems by 100 Poets, The 47 Faithful Samurai, The 54 Chapters of Genji, etc.

As far as I know, the number 36 had not been associated with Mount Fuji, before Hokusai designed his famous print series in the early 1830s. In 1771 a sketchbook, The Hundred Fujis (Hyaku-Fuji), by the minor painter Minsetsu, was published, and according to Richard Lane (Hokusai - Life and Work, Barrie & Jenkins 1989, p 183), these sketches may well have been a direct inspiration for Hokusai. There was also a chūban-size print series by Masayoshi with this title, published in the 1780s.

In 1823 Hokusai announced the publication of a picture book, to be entitled Fugaku hattai (Eight Aspects of Mt Fuji). However, this book seems never to have been published, and not until the New Year of 1831, Hokusai's first and most famous Fuji series was advertised by the publisher Eijudo, who pointed out that the number of prints in the series would probably exceed a hundred, in spite of the title. (Lane, p 184)

This is pure speculation on my part, of course, but it is possible that Hokusai at first didn't want to commit himself to designing as many pictures as Minsetsu and Masayoshi. Eijudo's reference to the number 100 indicates that the number 100 was already associated with pictures of Mt Fuji. However, the number 100 was also traditionally associated with the famous 13th century anthology Hyaku-nin-isshu (A Hundred Poems by a Hundred Poets), and this may have inspired Hokusai to choose another number, that was linked with classical poetry through two wellknown numerical categories: Sanjūrok-kasen (The Thirty-six Poetical Geniuses) and Chūko sanjūrok-kasen (The Thirty-six Poets of the Middle Ages). (In 1824 he had published a book with illustrations of "comic verses by the 36 poets", by the way.)

As it turned out, the number of prints in the series did exceed 36; a total of 46 prints were issued in the years 1830-1832. Only a couple of years later, though, the first volume of his book Fugaku hyakkei (The Hundred Views of Fuji) appeared.

As for Hiroshige, there certainly existed a rivalry between him and Hokusai, and Mt Fuji is a prominent feature of many of Hiroshige's prints. However, I do not believe that he designed any Fuji series before Hokusai's death in 1849.

After that, however, he published two Fuji series, both entitled Fuji sanjūrokkei (Thirty-six Views of Fuji) - one published by Sanoki ca 1850, and one by Tsutaya in 1858.

I do not remember seeing any prints from the Sanoki series, though, and those that I have seen from the Tsutaya series do not carry any legend reading "the one and only 36 views". Perhaps somebody else can comment on this? Anyway, Hiroshige's choice of the number 36 must be seen as a clear reference to Hokusai's famous series.

The picture above, the view of Fuji across the Motosu Lake in Kai Province from Hiroshige's 1858 series, is incidentally one of the most widespread ukiyo-e prints on the Internet. However, at most sites where it has been posted, it is distorted in a disgraceful manner. At some of these sites it is also wrongly attributed to Hokusai.

Another print from the same series is available in my Edo no Iki Gallery (see link below).

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