Famous Painters and Paintings in Japan

Painting has been one of the oldest forms of artistic expression in Japan. Japanese artists have developed a wide variety of genres and styles over centuries. This article will shed light on the progress of these paintings and which museums you can visit to relish these artworks in Japan.

Table of Contents

  1. Overview of Japanese Art
  2. National Treasures in Japan
  3. Popular Japanese Painters
  4. List of famous art museums in Japan
  5. Conclusion

Overview of Japanese Art

Japanese art generally referred to paintings, architecture, pottery, sculptures, jade carvings, and other fine visual arts produced in Japan. Over thousands of years Japanese artists tested and developed various forms of arts and expanded the definition.

Sumi-e (ink wash painting) and ukiyo-e (a genre of woodblock prints and paintings) styles are well known across the world. Kano School and Rimpa School are prominent schools, if not the most, in Japanese painting history, which has many remarkable artists.

National Treasures in Japan: A Brief Look over History

National Treasures are essentially cultural properties. Generally these items are selected based on their high historical and artistic value like paintings, sculptures, murals, and so on.

There are more than 162 painting works included in the list which dates back to the 8th century in the forms of hanging scrolls, hand scrolls, paintings on temple walls, ceilings, doors etc.

Let's look at a brief description about each timeline:

As stated before, Japanese arts have evolved and developed with time. The time period below shows what kind of arts were dominant during that time and which masterpieces they produced.

Ancient Japan and Asuka period (until 710)

  • the origin of painting in Japan

  • the introduction of Chinese writing system (Kanji)

  • Mural paintings and simple figural and geometric designs.

Nara period (710–794)

  • Introduction of religious paintings

  • More emphasis on sculptures than paintings

  • Paintings and carvings in the walls of important buildings.

Heian period (794–1185)

  • Introduction of Mandala paintings

  • The most famous are the Diamond Realm Mandala and Womb Realm Mandala

Kamakura period (1185–1333)

  • Introduction of more realistic religious paintings and sculptures

  • Origin of Kei School for sculptures

Muromachi period (1333–1573)

  • Development of ink paintings

  • Practiced especially at the great Zen monasteries

Azuchi–Momoyama period (1573–1615)

  • Introduction of bigger, more complicated style of art with gold and silver foil.

  • Represents the classical themes of Japanese art.

Prewar period (1868–1945) and postwar period (1945- Present)

  • Introduction of abstract, western paintings.

  • Famous painters emerged include Sōtarō Yasui, Ryūzaburō Umehara, Ogura Yuki and Uemura Shōko

Popular Japanese Painters

7 popular Japanese painters and their famous works of art include:

Sesshu Toyo (1420 – 1506)

Sesshu is considered one of the greatest artists in Japan. His art style was sumi-e (ink wash painting), which was first done by his master Tensho Shubun. He inspired and influenced many subsequent Japanese artists. Some of his works are Sansui Chokan (Long Scroll of Landscapes), View of Amano-Hashidate, Portrait of Masuda Kanetaka, etc.

Hasegawa Tohaku (1539 – 1610)

Hasegawa Tohaku is the founder of the Hasegawa school of Japanese paintings. He is known for his sumi-e paintings, not on canvas but on folding screens, walls and sliding doors. Some of his famous works are Pine Trees, Pine Tree and Flowering Plants, Portrait of Nawa Nagatoshi, etc. 

Ogata Korin (1658 – 1716)

Ogata Korin was a leading member of  the famous Rimpa school. He had an interesting and distinctive sense of design and color. Like Hasegawa, he preferred working on ceramics, folding screens and other objects rather than canvas. Some of his famous works are Red and White Plum Blossoms, Writing Box with Eight Bridges, Wind God and Thunder God, etc.

Katsushika Hokusai (1760 – 1849) 

Hokusai is considered one of the greatest masters in the Japanese art history. He was a ukiyo-e (woodblock and scroll paintings) painter. His art style featured landscapes and animals, a shift in style from previous art. He is best known for The Great Wave off Kanagawa which is included in the Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji

Katsushika Oi (1800-1866)

Oi is the daughter of the aforementioned famous painter Hokusai. Her handwriting and paintings of beautiful Japanese women are some of her famous accomplishments. Some of her works are Kinuta, Hundred Eyes, Mount Fuji through a Bamboo Forest, etc.

Kuroda Seiki (1866-1924)

Seiki is a well known artist and teacher. He is one of the first to practice western style painting in Japan and make it popular. Some of his works have also been selected as postage stamps. His works include Lakeside, Wisdom, Impression, Sentiment, Maiko, The Fields, etc. There is a Memorial Hall dedicated to him at Ueno Park. 

Takashi Murakami (1962)

He is one of most famous contemporary artists in Japan. He is the founder and President of an art production and artist management company called Kaikai Kiki Co.Ltd. He began the “superflat” art movement and even coined the term. His works are colorful and the characters are quite recognizable, often used in ads. Some of his famous works are 727, An Homage to Monopink 1960, Cosmos Ball, Flower Ball etc.

List of famous Art Museums in Japan

You can find many of the artists’ works from the list above in the following museums.

1. The National Museum of Modern Art, Tokyo

This museum of art opened in 1952. Here you can see a large collection of art right from the 18th century to the modern days. The museum is located near the Imperial Palace near Takebashi station.

Address: 3-1 Kitanomaru-koen, Chiyoda, Tokyo 102-0091, Japan

2. Tokyo National Museum

Tokyo National Museum was founded in 1872. It is the one of the oldest national museums. It collects historic artworks in beautifully sculpted buildings. This museum is in fact a large complex with 6 separate buildings. It is dedicated to collecting and displaying historic artworks and antiquities from Japan and Asia. Visitors here can find information and audio guides in English.

Address: 13 – 9 Ueno Park, Taito, Tokyo 110-8712, Japan

3. Kyoto National Museum

Kyoto National Museum was founded in 1897. It stores a large variety of Japanese and Asian cultural arts in the forms of sculptures, ceramics, calligraphy, costumes and paintings. It is situated right across from the extremely famous temple Sanjusangendo.

Address: 527 Chayachō, Higashiyama Ward Kyoto, Kyoto, 605-0931, Japan

Check out our article about Kyoto National Museum here: Kyoto National Museum

4. Nara National Museum

The Nara National Museum was opened in 1895. The museum has a collection of artworks and artifacts that reveal the history of Buddhist art. Visitors here can also attend lectures, temporary and permanent exhibitions and the inspiring Buddhist Art Library. It is located near Nara Station.

Address: Nara National Museum, 50 Noboriōji-chō, Nara city 630-8213, Japan


If you are an art enthusiast and are visiting Japan, try visiting the above museums, as well as countless other great ones. We hope this introduction to Japanese art will certainly help you to understand these artworks in a better way.

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