After completion of her electronics engineering, Swapnali Mathkar worked in IT industry for almost fourteen years, out of which ten years in Japan. All this while she continued to pursue her hobby of photography. After coming back to India she decided to work in photography and writing field. She is working as a working editor for online diwali Magazine ‘Fa Fotocha’ dedicated to photography, which was her concept. She has won several awards in photographic competitions and some of her photos has been selected by 'The Photographic Angle, UK' for the exhibitions in UK. She writes her photography blog in Marathi and has published three story books for young children. www.swapnali.com prakashraan.blogspot.com
Katsushita Hokusai, born in 1760, a period famously known as Edo period, was fond of drawing and sketching since his childhood. Earlier picking up the art from his father, he was rather lucky to find great masters to guide him and his art flourished. He lived for ninety nine years and in this long life, he painted many of the famous paintings. Later he produced his famous series on 'One Hundred Views of Mount Fuji,' and in the postscript he writes. “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.” Being very famous and yet down to earth and polite is the thing to marvel at, and Katsushita was the man to praise for these qualities even after his death in the form of his art.
Ukiyo-e, is a genre of woodblock prints and paintings that flourished in Japan during Edo Period that is from the 17th through 19th centuries. This Ukiyo-e paintings were mostly based on the themes such as beautiful women; kabuki actors and sumo wrestlers; scenes from history and folk tales; travel scenes and landscapes; flora and fauna; erotica and so. Katsushita Hokusai made a series of paintings in Ukiyo-e format and these paintings are very famous to this date. That was the time when domestic traveling was taking up in Japan and Kastushita had a special attraction about Mount Fuji, the tallest and most distinguished mountain in Japan. There are many myths and folk tales associated with Mount Fuji. One such legend says that the princess from moon ( Kaguya Hime) gifted elixir of life to the prince of Japan as a parting gift. But prince was so agonised and angry that he just burnt it on the top of the tallest mountain being the closest place to moon. Later this mountain was known as Mount Fuji after the Japanese word fushi, meaning immortality. Such tales tell you the place of Mount Fuji holds in Japanese people's heart, and Hokusai was no different. He started to paint different scenes of Mount Fuji from various locations during his travel and then published this series as Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji ( Fugaku Sanjūrokkei). Later he included ten more paintings in this series, however the name remained same. This series continued to grow to hundred views in Hokusai's life span. There are many artists who have worked on same subject and produced many paintings of Fuji, but Hokusai's work remains world famous and His paintings are assumed to be the Master-pieces.
I had read about 'Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji ' around the time I first visited Japan. I kept wondering about how an artist can paint thirty-six or even hundred views of the same mountain and I failed to understand the reason behind it. Of course, I had not witnessed the charm of this mountain at that time. While in Japan, once I was in the ward office and an old Japanese lady came to me hurriedly. Knowing my incompetence in Japanese language that time, she simply held my hand and took me to the large glass window. Excitedly pointing towards the far away hazy mountain , she said 'Mount Fuji'!!! 'Oh is that so?' was my reaction, vaguely remembering a black n white picture from my school geography book. Later I came to know that sighting mount Fuji from Tokyo in summer rains is kind of rare.
I found out that we can reach half way on the Mount Fuji by bus until end of october before the bus route closes due to heavy snow. And so I decided to visit that place called Fuji 5th station( gogome). After changing several trains I reached to Kawaguchi ko station, to take one hour bus journey to Mount Fuji fifth station. I could not anticipate what I would see there, and suddenly, to my surprise there were vibrant autumn colors. That was for the first time that I was seeing yellow, orange fall colors and it was certainly mesmerising. I got down at the final stop only to realize the freezing cold weather and chilling winds. But my eyes widened , I forgot all about cold winds when I saw huge bare mountain top standing in front of me. The black soil made up of the once molten lava was sprinkled with fresh snow on the top; just like some powdered sugar on the blackforest cake! Its charm hypnotised me but little did I know that this same mountain will keep on enticing me for the rest of my life.
From Fuji gogome, I went back to Kawaguchi ko and took a rope way to the top of Kachi Kachi yama mountain. The view from the top at sunset was awesome. Vast open fields spread across all the way till horizon, tiny clusters of houses and villages, dusky orange sky and rising over all this was the great Fuji yama! Golden light, Open sky , vast fields and symmetrical view of the volcanic mountain - A mesmerizing scene it was! That was the moment I knew, I fell in love with this great world heritage forever. Suddenly I found myself in Hokusai's shoes and could understand Hokusai's love for this mountain!
In few weeks I started my first job in Japan. It was a long commute to work, approximately two hours either way. Traveling that far everyday was a bliss just because I could see Mount Fuji everyday from train and from office as well. Then we were looking for another rented apartment in Tokyo. The estate agent opened the door of an apartment and we realized that Fuji was visible through the glass windows and balcony too. No surprise that we chose that apartment. My day used to start with a curiosity to watch Mount Fuji. Sometimes silvery dull; sometimes golden shiny; some days hidden behind the clouds; and on some occasions with a cap of clouds; Some evenings a silhouette in the orange sky; This great charmer has shown many avatars through my glass window. Every day I used to recall Hokusai and his Thirty-six painting series.
Even though I was watching Fuji almost everyday, I could not resist visiting Fuji gogome at least once a year. It always gave me a peace of mind and a kind of satisfaction. Once I visited a place called Yamanaka ko, or yamanaka lake near Fuji gogome area and was so fascinated by the views there, I frequently started visiting the place. In the snowy season, I would get up very early in the morning and take a peek through the large glass panes of Hotel room. There, I could see dark blue sky before dawn, setting dull stars and faint figure of snow peaked Mount Fuji alluring me. The village, vast lake, still sleeping in darkness, I would reach the frozen shores breaking the delicate ice crystals formed over the frosty night. Sometimes on a very cold day the part of the lake would be frozen, otherwise the soft sound of tiny waves on the shore would bring the rhythm to that peaceful silent dawn. There I would see Mount Fuji , standing tall and its reflection in the still water. A swan would land elegantly in the water and swim across the reflection. Some fisherman would take his boat towards center of the lake and wait there patiently wrapping himself in warm clothes. Suddenly a moment of enlightenment would occur with first rays of rising sun. Warm red light of rising sun would fall on the top of the Mountain and it would shine like gold. The next two to three minutes would be a spectacular manifestation of Nature's magic. Fuji would turn into shiny golden-red mountain, and its reflection would be as if molten gold mixing in the water. This Fuji is called Aka Fuji, or red Fuji in Japan. This magical display would be over in few minutes and flocks of bird would start landing in the lake bringing you back to real life.
Most of these times you would meet Japanese Ojii san meaning old men photographers, who are from the nearby village. They would tell you tales of Fuji and its different views; show you photographs of Fuji taken by them; and invite you to visit Fuji in another seasons. They are of the same genre as of Hokusai.
One evening, I reached Yamanaka ko and realized that it's been days since last snowfall. However the sky was dull gray and heavy showing signs of snowfall. The hotel owner who came to pick us up, too said that it would snow that day, and by the time we reached hotel , it had started snowing heavily. I gazed through the large glass panes of our room and could see just a faint outline of Mt. Fuji and heavy snow falling. It was snowing all night, making a white blanket of snow everywhere. I got up early morning and opened the curtain, only to see snow clad trees, Prussian blue sky and snow capped Fuji in blue light at dawn. I took my camera, got out of the hotel and saw fresh, virgin snow spread all over. Walking in such snow , leaving behind your footprints is a thing to experience! I climbed down the hill, walked across the road towards the shore anticipating a beautiful reflection. But alas! The lake was almost frozen and there was no reflection that day.
You can see diamond Fuji on the opposite shore of the large Yamanaka lake. Diamond Fuji means the sun sets on the top of Mount Fuji creating a diamond like effect. To witness this, you have to be in the right place at the right time. I always wanted to visit this place, but somehow I could not adjust my schedule to match that time. However that particular year I decided to visit the place and could get the beautiful diamond Fuji captured in my camera.
Slowly, while watching all these avatars of Mount Fuji, I could understand why Hokusai painted those hundred views of Fuji, I could see his passion of depicting Fuji from various locations and various seasons. It's not just Hokusai , but many more artists from Japan or from all over the world fell in for the charm of Fuji. I would like to specially mention a senior photographer, Ooyama Yukio among all of them. His dedication and passion to photograph Mount Fuji seems to be unmatchable. He started photographing Fuji somewhere in 1976, after watching somebody's photographs and has not stopped yet. His obsession grew to the point that he decided to relocate in the village Oshino, at the bottom of the Mount Fuji. Later he built his house in nearby village with a special observatory dome and started watching and photographing Fuji for twenty four hours. He kept one of his camera in South Alps permanently, so that he can shoot from there easily. He also kept another equipment near the sea where he gets beautiful Fuji views. He carries loads of camera equipments, and traverses through valleys and mountains and sometimes stays in Forests for weeks , just to capture that perfect moment of Mount Fuji. He has displayed his photos in exhibitions and published many books too.
The artists like Hokusai or Ooyama lived their lives to worship Art. They followed their hearts and remained true to their virtuosity. Hokusai asked for hundred and fifty years of life and he got almost hundred years to fulfil his dreams. I request God, not for long years, but for the passion like Hokusai, and dedication like Yukio to flourish the art within me. May Heaven grants that passion & dedication to me.