Katsushika Hokusai was a Japanese ukiyo-e painter and printmaker and is best-known for his woodblock print series Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji, which includes the iconic “The Great Wave off Kanagawa”, one of the most famous images in Japanese art. Hokusai was obsessed with the sacred Mount Fuji and his art transformed the traditional ukiyo-e style. He was extremely productive and it is believed that he made 30,000 paintings, sketches, woodblock prints, and picture books. On his deathbed (at about the age of 90) he apparently exclaimed: “If only Heaven will give me just another ten years … Just another five more years, then I could become a real painter.”
During Hokusai’s lifetime, it was forbidden in Japan for foreigners to enter and for the Japanese to leave the country, on penalty of death. Japan opened its borders in the 1850s and Hokusai’s art reached Western Europe having great influence on Art Nouveau and Impressionism painters, such as Monet, Degas, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec and Van Gogh.
“From around the age of six, I had the habit of sketching from life. I became an artist, and from fifty on began producing works that won some reputation, but nothing I did before the age of seventy was worthy of attention. At seventy-three, I began to grasp the structures of birds and beasts, insects and fish, and of the way plants grow. If I go on trying, I will surely understand them still better by the time I am eighty-six, so that by ninety I will have penetrated to their essential nature. At one hundred, I may well have a positively divine understanding of them, while at one hundred and thirty, forty, or more I will have reached the stage where every dot and every stroke I paint will be alive. May Heaven, that grants long life, give me the chance to prove that this is no lie.”
“The Great Wave off Kanagawa”, Hokusai’s best-known woodblock print and one of the most famous works of art in the world, depicts a giant blue wave threatening boats off the coast of Kanagawa with Mount Fuji in the background. Hokusai used Prussian blue, new at this time in Japan pigment, to colour the woodblock print. The destructive power of nature represented by the enormous wave, just moments before crushing its claw-like crest down on to three fishing boats, is contrasted with the human helplessness of the fishermen clinging on to their boats. Japan’s biggest mountain appears as a small triangle in the background framed by the cresting wave.
I’ve loved Japanese woodblock prints since I was a child, especially those depicting Mount Fuji. “The Great Wave” inspired me to make the classic Japanese dish: Hiyayakko – chilled silken tofu with different toppings and seasoned with soy sauce. Typically the toppings are spring onions, katsuobushi (dried tuna flakes), grated ginger. I chose to add enoki mushrooms to my Hiyayakko topping along with spring onions and chilli. They fit better with my concept of a dish inspired by “The Great Wave”, aren’t fish, and are delicious. Choose a good quality silken tofu and don’t overdo it with the soy sauce. It’s amazing how tasty this simple starter is.
- 300 g silken tofu
- 100 g Enoki mushrooms, cleaned, thick bottom stems removed
- 1 small chilli pepper, cut into rings
- 2 spring onions, cut thinly
- 1 tbsp soy sauce or Tamari (gluten-free soy sauce)
- 1 tsp sesame oil
- 4 tbsp sunflower oil
- Watercress, handful
Place the watercress on the plate.
Cut the tofu into four pieces and place on the plate on the top of watercress.
In a small bowl mix the soy sauce and the sesame oil.
Heat the sunflower oil in a small pan and fry the enoki, spring onions and chilli for a minute.
Pour the hot oil over the tofu. Top with the fried vegetables and drizzle with the mixture of soy sauce and sesame oil.