When Hokusai's The Great Wave was first issued, in about 1830, Japan's contact with the outside world was strictly regulated. It was only in 1859 when Japan, under pressure from America and other powers, opened a few of its ports that Japanese prints began to be exported to Europe. They were quickly discovered and celebrated by European and American artists like Whistler, Van Gogh and Monet. The Great Wave inspired Debussy's symphonic sketches La Mer and has become one of the most iconic images of the power of the sea.
The excellent commentary on Hokusai's "The Great Wave" can be found at: