Lantern Hauntings: Inspired by Katsushika Hokusai’s “Oiwa”

Watercolor, ink, gouache on paper

Day 204 and Hokusai’s Oiwa

From my experience and observation, I think it’s safe to say that Katsushika Hokusai’s Under the Wave off Kanagawa, better known as The Great Wave, is a part of our culture, it’s familiar. I remember it always being at the corners of my life: on the wall of my flute teachers bathroom when I was a child, on my grandmother’s pen, and a print on the wall in my family’s basement (the same print that now resides in my bedroom).

When a piece of artwork becomes familiar we see it for what it is, not necessarily where it came from. When was the last time you looked at something commonplace in your life and wondered how it got there or why it came to be?

A lovely organization by the name of The Public Domain Review brought to my attention Hokusai’s Ghost Stories. When I saw the world of Hokusai’s other artwork, I felt a feeling similar to when I learned that my parents were once my age too.

Just as The Great Wave weaves a narrative of the balance between tension and peace, violence and beauty, his illustrations of classic Japanese ghost stories offer entire universes within one image, within simple lines.

I chose to study his piece Oiwa not just because it is in the public domain and is visually riveting, but also because the story itself reminds me of the Classical myth of Medea and the tension, jealousy, and revenge within the roles of love and marriage.

According to the Library of Congress, The story of Owia goes like this,

“Oiwa suffers facial disfigurement after being poisoned by her husband. She dies after going insane, and returns in various forms–particularly that of a paper lantern–to haunt him.”

Now take a minute to look around, look at the mundane, the normal, look at the people you encounter every day, look at yourself. Ask questions, wonder why, becuase (pun fully intended) there is always more than meets the eye.