AMITIAE - Monday 2 January 2012
Japanese Art on the iPad: Hokusai HD and Hiroshige HD
By Graham K. Rogers
I have had an interest in Japanese Art going back to the mid-1970s and a few days ago I downloaded an interesting free app named Japanese Traditional Art Gallery for iPad Lite. I reviewed this then and noted that the icon for the App used the well known Great Wave off Kanagawa by the artist Hukusai. While looking through the iTunes App Store, I saw another app using an identical icon.
This review first appeared on AMITIAE in June 2011 and has now been revised.
As well as the app for Hokusai, I was also pleased to see one for Hiroshige as well as some 50 other artists. Each of these apps is priced at $0.99 so I downloaded a small selection, starting with the two Japanese artists.
Initially, although I tried to move the Hokusai HD app to an Art folder I created, it kept going back to the invisible page 12 of apps. A restart of the iPad showed me a greyed-out image and when I examined this it showed the start of a download. When I had first made the purchase, the download had failed and I was informed that it would be synced from iTunes. After several tries to install it from iTunes, I tapped on the grey app and was asked for my password. Then it installed properly.
At the top of the screen are two controls: Main to return to the menu; and All to display thumbnail images from the section. Tapping one of these goes directly to the selected image. There are also several controls at the bottom of the screen, starting at the left with Music. There is no indication what this is (title, artist) although it certainly sounded traditionally Japanese. It may have been a modern rendition, but it was not obtrusive and felt right for the appp. I imaging sitting down examining the images slowly, one by one, with a glass of sake handy.
Other controls at the bottom were left and right arrows for forward or back through the images, a slideshow arrow and a W for Wikipedia information. As far as I was able to see this was greyed out apart from when the Great Wave was displayed. An Export arrow allows users to save images to the Photo Library, Save to Bookmarks or to send an image via email. This was a bit slow perhaps because of the image size. This depends on the image selected: one I used was 5.1MB while another was 786KB. The larger one gave me a PNG file sized 23" X 26".
Hokusai is widely known for his 36 views of Mount Fuji, a series of images. One of these is the Great Wave. However his output was prolific and as well as the prints, featured here, there are examples of calligraphy and simple drawings, some of which I was offered in London many years ago. The whole series is online on several sites, such as the Portuguese site of Manuel Paias.
Although Hokusai is famous for the prints, there was a large body of other work like painting, and this is also represented here including a famous self-portrait. Unlike the Japanese Art app I examined before, there is information about each image. This is accessed by tapping the screen. Another tap clears the text. What is interesting about many of the prints of Hokusai (and Hiroshige) is that despite the majesty of the background (Fuji, a waterfall, the sea or the sky) the foreground often shows images of mundane tasks: statements of the everyday life in Japan. There is a good mix of the artist's output and while there are many familiar images the developers have also managed to include several with which we may not all be familiar and there were one or two pleasant surprises for me.
These views are more a homage to the senior artist, and this may be seen in several of the prints, most notably in The Sea of Satta in Suruga Province, where a large wave mirrors Hokusai's version without the claw-like structure and (with birds in the sky) there is no threat to boats or humans.
Although the views of Fuji are similar to Hokusai's and were meant as a homage to the older artist, the main body of work seems to be far closer to the portraying day to day realism. Several scenes depict the lives of ordinary people with the occasional injection of humour, such as with what appears to be a drunken brawl at Iwamurata (69 Stations of the Kisokaido). This series, and several more here had entries in Wikipedia, so this feature of the app was more usable and gives the interested novice some background material to what is displayed in the app.
This is a valuable little series and for $0.99 each app, the access to such Art -- and to access it so easily -- is useful.
Graham K. Rogers teaches at the Faculty of Engineering, Mahidol University in Thailand. He wrote in the Bangkok Post, Database supplement on IT subjects. For the last seven years of Database he wrote a column on Apple and Macs.
For further information, e-mail to