Monday, March 14, 2011

Like a Specter

I must confess that the print below, or many like it I have seen over the years, was the first thing I thought of on Friday morning as I watched with horror the tsunami wave, full of splintered homes, chicken barns, wood piles, giant ships and tankers, and car after car, gush with terrifying ease over the flat farmland and cities of Tohoku.  

In case anyone thinks that Japanese ukiyo-e are unrealistic, I would encourage you to do some Google searching for similar ukiyo-e of earthquakes and tsunami.  In the case of this print by Utagawa Kokunimasa (1874-1994), its psychological and emotional terror predates the numbing horror of video clips we are all watching of the Tohoku quake and tsunami by 115 years.

A Japanese woodblock print illustrating the June 15, 1896, tsunami that struck Iwate, Aomori, Miyagi Prefectures. The tsunami destroyed more than 5000 houses, killed approximately 30,000 people. The wave reached 30 m (nearly 100 feet) in height in some areas. The Meiji Sanriku Tsunami remains one of the largest natural catastrophes in modern Japanese history. Information courtesy of


  1. This is stunning. thank you for sharing it.

  2. You are welcome. Though I wish the disaster didn't force to mind these images.

  3. immediately after i saw the horrifying images of the tsunami on tv i thought of the multitude of japanese prints i'd seen over the years and of the relevance and power of the ocean waves in japanese art.
    thanks for posting.