Kanagawa Wave Tattoos: History, Meanings & Designs

Kanagawa Wave Tattoos: History, Meanings & Designs

There’s a piece of Japanese art that is making an appearance lately in the skin art world. It’s called the Kanagawa Wave and not only is it a powerful image that is inspiring people around the world, but it has a little history to it.

Today we’ll tell you a little more about Kanagawa wave tattoos, going into their symbolism, meanings, and more so that you can know what all the fuss is about. We’ll give you a hint – it was definitely only a matter of time before this evocative painting made its appearance in ink!


What is the History of Kanagawa Wave Tattoos?

Known in its origin country of Japan, the ‘Kanagawa Oki Nami Ura’ or ‘Great wave of Kanagawa’ as it’s known in English comes from the artwork of Hokusai Katsushika, who lived from 1760 to 1849. An artist and a woodblock printmaker maker, Hokusai created the great wave in 1831 as part of a 6 piece set.

This set was entitled ‘Fugaku Sanju-roku Kei’ or ’36 views of Mount Fiji’ and in the Great Wave 3 ships are depicted under the curl of a mighty wave, through which in the distance you can see Mount Fuji. There is even an inscription which reads:

“Thirty-six views of Mount Fuji

On the high seas in Kanagawa

Under the wave.”   

This artwork is one of the most famous and well-known pieces of art in the world and it’s inspired other artists and some musicians as well, a few of whom you might just have heard of. Vincent Van Gogh, for instance, as well as Claude Monet and Claude Debussy, just to name a few.

It’s classic Japanese art that is both powerful and timeless, making it a skin art option that doesn’t just invoke a powerful feeling, but which also has a rich history of inspiring others with its simple, perfect grace.


What Do Kanagawa Wave Tattoos Symbolize?

The Kanagawa wave is thought to symbolize the power of nature and the relative powerlessness of man. The 3 ships are practically tiny toys, with the large wave building up to crush them, and even the safety of Fiji is faraway and small.

This is a popular interpretation, but people still study Hokusai Katsushika’s works to this day. The meaning is pondered on, but also the painstaking techniques with which he created his block prints and his mastery of the geometric language required to make the images so stylized, and yet so very real.

Kanagawa waves definitely invoke a feeling of Nature’s power but also remind us of the simple beauty of this wave which could so casually swat us away. It’s definitely no coincidence that this artwork has become so well-known and famous. Sometimes the best way to say it is Hokusai Katsushika’s way – simple, elegant, and direct.

This symbolism can also be paired with other symbols to create a deeper or even a  new meaning and this is one of the best parts of skin art. Taking or creating art that moves you and giving it your own personal ‘take’ and message.


What Do Kanagawa Wave Tattoos Mean?

Kanagawa Wave tattoos can mean that one admires the raw power of Nature and understands that we are part of it and hardly it’s masters.

For those who love the sea or who have served in Naval armed forces, it can also be a tattoo marking respect for the sea or even a talismanic protection for their time on it.

The Kanagawa Wave could also serve as a warning that the owner of the tattoo is slow to anger, but powerful and unstoppable once their ire has been roused. After all, the image looks like a large wave, but it you look behind it then you’ll note that it is only the beginning of what could grow into a tsunami!

How it is placed and what’s around it is really going to make the message, however, so a little care and forethought is really what’s going to personalize it for you.

For instance, if this famous wave were depicted in front of a mighty mountain that is NOT in the distance (as Fiji is shown), then it could be stating that the owner will not be moved, no matter what force is directed. Give it a little thought to make it your own and the possibilities are truly endless.


Where Do Kanagawa Wave Tattoos Usually Go?

It depends on the tattoo’s owner, but a popular placement is the upper and outer arm for Kanagawa Wave tattoos, so that they might easily be seen and admired. One of the perks of this being a famous historical piece is that it is going to be better received just about anywhere in comparison to other ink subjects.

As such, most will choose to make it visible as much as possible, although others might have this iconic painting done as a grand backpiece, or on the other side of the equation, it could even be expressed with a minimalism bent — on the ankle.


Characteristics and Styles of Kanagawa Wave Tattoos

Traditional Japanese style tattooing is best for the subject matter, since it is a famous piece of Japanese art. The thing about art, however, is that the style can do a lot of interesting things and make a powerful message even more mighty, so it’s best to check with your artist to get a close look at the available styles.

Sometimes you can take a classic, turn it ‘on it’s head’, and really make it your own. So, take a little time and look at a few of your options. You might find that your own version of ‘classic; could be a watercolor tattoo depiction or even an abstract rendering of this famous image – you won’t know until you look!


Some final words on Kanagawa Wave tattoos

Today we’ve taken a look at Kanagawa wave tattoos and as you can see, there’s a lot of weight and a powerful message behind this classic and world-famous piece of Japanese art.

Whether rendered with minimalism or in bright, watercolor relief, there’s no denying that it’s a powerful foundation to build your skin art message on. After all… it’s not every day that you come across an image that inspired Van Gogh, you know?

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