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Have Hokusai, Will Travel: Japan’s New Passports Feature Ukiyo-E Master’s Prints

①View from Nihonashi in Edo
A passport page featuring Katsushika Hokusai’s “Nihonbashi in Edo (Edo Nihonbashi)” (ca 1830–32) (all images courtesy Japan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs) (click to enlarge)

Japanese citizens are set to receive new passports, and they will salute Katsushika Hokusai, the renowned ukiyo-e printmaker and painter. Last week, Japan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs unveiled basic designs of the new travel documents, revealing that they will feature Hokusai’s famed Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji. Each pair of facing pages for immigration stamps will be dedicated to one of the landscape prints, although the series will be incomplete, as the booklet has room to showcase just 24 works. The images chosen include well-known prints such as the vivid “Fine Wind, Clear Morning” and of course, “The Great Wave Off Kanagawa.” The passports’ covers — blue for ones valid for five years and red for those valid for 10 — will remain unchanged.

According to the ministry, selecting a single work of art as a motif for a country’s passports is a very rare occurrence worldwide (although the UK last year revealed a controversial design celebrating creative minds). As the Japan Times reported, the government intends to introduce the designs in 2019 as the country gears up to host the 2020 Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics.

While it alters passport designs regularly for security reasons, the last time Japan changed them this substantially was after World War II. The pages of current passports feature cherry blossoms; discussions for new designs centered on imagery that strongly represents Japan on an international level — apparently smiling Takashi Murakami characters and spotty Yayoi Kusama pumpkins were not deemed suitable for state-issued documents. Commemorating the iconic peak of Mount Fuji through works by perhaps the nation’s most celebrated artist, therefore, simply makes sense.

②View on a fine breezy day
A design showing Hokusai’s “Fine Wind, Clear Morning”
Japanse passports
The covers of Japan’s passports
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