In her study of Hokusai’s Great Wave, Christine Guth has written as follows:
Unlike many forms of early modern Japanese visual culture, “Under the Wave off Kanagawa” has exceptional communicative power as a graphic design because it combines a set of easily recognizable almost geometrically defined features: mountain and sea. . . , figures in boats, and a dramatic narrative open to individual interpretation but often understood to imply the contest or uneven balance between nature and humanity. Adding to its visual appeal, its flat pictorial idiom, predominantly blue palette, and adoption of elements of spatial illusionism make this marine view at once abstract and realistic, familiar and unfamiliar, to Japanese and non-Japanese viewers alike.
With the publication of “Under the Wave off Kanagawa,” Hokusai created a way of seeing the power and mutability of the sea that has had an enduring impact around the world. Although he was not the first Japanese artist to create a landscape dominated by a giant wave, this subject nonetheless has come to be inextricably identified with him.
Christine M. E. Guth, Hokusai’s Great Wave: Biography of a Global Icon (Honolulu: University of Hawai’i Press, 2015), p. 3