Editor’s note: This article was published before the coronavirus pandemic, and may not reflect the current situation on the ground.

Not only did he shape how the world saw Japan through his landscapes, the works by 19th-century artist Katsushika Hokusai continue to inspire today. Shafik Meghji goes on the trail of Japan’s greatest artist.

A few hours after arriving in Japan, jetlagged and slightly disheveled, I climbed a steep flight of steps to the candy-striped Chureito Pagoda in Yamanashi Prefecture for my first glimpse of Mount Fuji.

Despite the distractions of a “Please beware, there is a bear in the area” sign and a gaggle of tourists brandishing selfie sticks, tripods and plastic cherry blossom sprigs to pose beside—the real stuff was not due for a fortnight—the snow-topped volcanic peak was mesmerizing. Although I’d never seen it before, it was immediately familiar.

Like travelers for almost two centuries, the picture of Japan in my head was thanks to Katsushika Hokusai, perhaps the country’s greatest artist. Even if you don’t know the name, you probably know the work. His series of Ukiyo-e—color woodblock prints—Thirty-Six Views of Mount Fuji, produced between 1830 and 1832, show the peak from different angles, at different times of the year, and in different contexts, both realistic and fantastical.