Reading Passage 1 – The Great Wave

Keywords: advanced reading, formal, Year 8-9, non-fiction, multiple-choice, 8 qs

Complex words are in bold. If you don’t understand them, search them and write them down!

(Timothy Clark, pg. 23, Hokusai’s Great Wave. British Museum Press, 2011.)

Hokusai’s ‘Great Wave Off Kanagawa’

Two aspects of the Great Wave are particularly striking and would have seemed novel at the time: the dramatic sense of depth in the middle of the picture; and the preponderant use of shades of blue. Both of these aspects were revolutionary in their day; even tinged with a certain ideological danger. For both the deep space and the strong blue signalled ‘Europe’ – or at least ‘outside Japan’. Foreign travel had been forbidden to Japanese since the late 1630s and all interactions with the outside world were closely policed by the Shogunate, the ruling military government, and generally confined to the periphery of the state. Trade with Holland and China were carefully regulated through the single port of Nagasaki in the far west. Under this authoritarian samurai regime, any undue interest in foreign matters was regarded with suspicion.

In 1720, however, the personal interest in foreign science and technology of Shogun Yoshimune led him to intervene to have lifted a ban in imported Chinese translations of European books, provided they did not deal in any way with Christianity (strictly outlawed in Japan, once again, since the late 1630’s). Thereafter, the eighteenth century witnessed a steadily growing interest among Japanese scholars in European matters, culminating in a movement known as ‘Dutch studies’ (Rangaku) – Holland being the only European nation with which Japan traded directly.

Among the European books and prints imported into Japan there must have been some that featured perspective systems of architectural lines converging dramatically towards a distant horizon line – maybe the kind of cityscape in London, Paris and Amsterdam that were hugely popular in those cities at the time. In Europe, such prints were often enjoyed in viewing devices that enhanced the sensation of deep space yet further.


  1. Which statement would best describe 17th century Japan?

a) Fascinated by European matters

b) Ravaged by giant waves called tsunamis

c) Home to many Rangaku scholars

d) Closed to the rest of the world

2. _______ and ________ were two aspects of the Great Wave that Japan would have found incredibly different from their usual art style.

a) The variety of colours, the depth

b) The use of perspective, different shades of blue

c) The use of watercolours, the depth

d) The depiction of a wave, different shades of blue

3. As used in the first paragraph, what would be the best synonym for preponderant?

a) worthy of pondering

b) something to think about before describing it

c) important and noteworthy

d) complex and thought-provoking

4. From what we are told in this passage, what would best describe the shogunate?

a) Magnanimous and accepting of other cultures

b) Liberal-minded and strict

c) Despotic and puissant

d) Authoritative and avuncular

5. What would the paragraph after this passage be about?

a) Examples of Japanese art pieces that correspond to the European art style

b) A description of European architecture, particularly in London and Paris

c) Japan’s history of tsunamis and other natural disasters

d) A more detailed description of Rangaku scholars

6. What do scholars of ‘Dutch Studies’ learn about?

a) The history of Denmark

b) Research from Europe

c) Art and science from Holland

d) Dutch languages and how they relate to art

7. What best describes Shogun Yoshimune’s opinion on foreign concepts?

a) Wildly passionate about every aspect of European culture

b) Xenophobic and narrow-minded

c) Nebulous. He didn’t really find it important

d) Enthusiastic about particular parts of European culture

8. Where would you find this passage?

a) In a general book about art

b) In a book specifically about Hokusai’s art and the Japanese art culture of his time

c) In an article about European architecture

d) In a personal essay about a person’s experience with Japanese art

Check your answers here!

Note: the multiple-choice questions are of my own creation. The passage, however, was written by Timothy Clark and can be found on page 23 of this book. To my knowledge, utilising this passage as a free educational exercise falls under fair use. If not, please let me know. I want to make sure that everything on this website is fair and right.


A teaching student whose goal is to become a primary-school teacher! I'm currently working as an English tutor to almost 100 students (they're all wonderful!).

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