Japanese Art

Japanese Art – 10 Important Japanese Artists and Artworks

Japanese art has a long and colorful history stretching as far back as the 10th millennium BCE and remains one of the most influential sources of artistic inspiration across art and popular culture. Traditional Japanese art has been influenced by a variety of historical events that helped Japanese artists develop their set of unique techniques and visual languages. In this article, we will review the top 10 most important Japanese artists and explore their unique styles and approaches to give you insight into the world of Japanese art. Keep reading for all you need to know about the wonders of Japanese art! 



A History of Art in Japan

What makes Japanese art so unique, and what are the different art styles that emerged from Japan? The history of Japanese art is diverse and spans many thousands of years. The development of art styles were seen in the iconic and traditional art forms of Japanese art. These included Japanese painting called Yamato-e, which originated in the Heian period between 794 and 1185 CE. This classical painting style was inspired by the painting styles of the Tang Dynasty and is characterized by features such as delicate lines, bright colors, and scenes from Japanese daily life and mythology. Yamato-e paintings were influenced by the techniques found in Chinese and Korean art, however, Japan’s adoption included the style as decor for scrolls and screens using Japanese designs. 

Another profound period of development in Japanese art was the Kamakura period, which saw the influence of Zen Buddhism on Japanese art. This led to the emergence of the Sumi-e ink painting style, which is also recognized as “Zen painting”. Sumi-e is a method that focuses on the use of minimal brush strokes executed in monochrome ink and was used to capture the essence of a subject. This traditional style emphasizes the principles of balance, simplicity, and an expression of the artist’s innermost feelings and ideas. 

Towards the 17th century, the Edo period was the next major period of rapid artistic development in Japan, which witnessed the invention of woodblock printing, better known as Ukiyo-e. Prints produced from this technique depicted scenes of daily life, including beautiful landscapes, kabuki actors, famous places, and courtesans. Such prints rose in popularity and influenced many Western Impressionist artists who sought new forms of representation. Famous Japanese artists such as Utagawa Hiroshige and Katsushika Hokusai became masters of traditional Ukiyo-e printing and created many iconic works. Among the many unique art styles of Japanese art are also its varied art forms, which included ceramics, pottery, and tea ceremonies. 

You cannot review Japanese art history without mentioning Shodo, better known as Japanese calligraphy. The art of Japanese calligraphy is an ancient art practice that involves the elegant art of expressive lettering and was used to create beautiful kanji and kana characters with flowing lines, scripted using a brush and ink. Shodo is an important aspect of Japanese culture and Zen Buddhism, which emphasizes the values of balance, harmony, and mindfulness. A few significant Japanese calligraphers include figures like Sengai Gibon, who was a Zen monk, and Takeda Sokaku, who paved the way forward for Modern calligraphic styles in the early 20th century. 

One might also recognize the 16th century low-fired pottery Raku as one of the most revered and rustic productions of Japanese art that show off the country’s special glazing techniques. The Japanese tea ceremony, also called chanoyu or chadō, meaning “the way of tea”, is another uniquely Japanese art practice that emerged in the Muromachi period and was also influenced by Zen Buddhism. The tea ceremony is also recognized as Teaism, which was coined by the Japanese art critic Okakura Kakuzō. Towards the 20th century, art in Japan began to fuse Western art styles with traditional Japanese art styles and by the 1950s, the Gutai Art Association was established to encourage the use of unconventional materials and approaches in Japanese art. Important figures like 20th-century painter Hiroshi Yoshida piloted the traditional shin-hanga style of art while artists such as Yayoi Kusama, Yoko Ono, and Yoshimoto Nara continue to leave a significant impact on Contemporary art. A few important institutions where one can find massive Japanese art collections include the National Museum of Asian Art, the Tokyo National Museum, and the Edo-Tokyo Museum, the latter of which preserves some of the best works from the Edo era. 



10 Famous Japanese Artists and Artworks

The influence of Japanese art on the global art scene is undoubtedly immense and has inspired many artists from different cultures and periods to embrace the philosophies and techniques rooted in its culture. One can certainly admire the ability of Japanese art to embody tradition and embrace innovation, which led to many complex creations. Below, we will dive into a selection of the most famous and impactful Japanese artists in history while reviewing their best works to gain a full picture of the trajectory of Japanese art and its influence. 


Tenshō Shūbun (1414 – 1463)

Where Artist LivedKyoto, Japan
Associated MovementsMuromachi Period
Famous Artworks
  • Reading in a Bamboo Grove (1446)
  • Hue of the water, Light on the peaks (c. 15th century)
  • Ox-herding Series (c. 15th century)

Tenshō Shūbun was born in the Ōmi Province of Japan in the late 14th century. He later moved to Kyoto, becoming director of the court painting bureau, an institution consisting of influential Japanese art patrons. Shūbun is considered by historians to be the father of Suiboku ink wash painting, a style that originated in China, but one which Shūbun helped incorporate into traditional Japanese art.

Famous Japanese Drawings No. 6. Riding the Bull Home (c. 15th century) by Tenshō Shūbun. This is one of a series of ten images, generally known in English as the Ox-herding (or Bull-herding) pictures, by the 15th century Japanese Rinzai Zen monk Shūbun. They are said to be copies of originals, now lost, traditionally attributed to Kakuan, a 12th century Chinese Zen Master; Tenshō Shūbun, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

After studying Chinese masters such as Ma Yuan and Xia Gui, Shūbun took elements of their work and created a style of ink-wash painting, promoting it until it became the local style of that era. Shūbun then went on to become a tutor of Japanese painting for future masters like Kanō Masanobu and Sesshū Tōyō. Reading in a Bamboo Grove, painted in 1446, is considered Shūbun’s most well-known painting, having received the honor as a Japanese national treasure.


Reading in a Bamboo Grove (1446)

MediumLight color on paper
Dimensions (cm)134.8 x 33.3
Where It Is HousedTokyo National Museum, Tokyo, Japan

Reflective of earlier works by the Southern Song Chinese painters, this early example of ancient Japanese art depicts a landscape and poetry painted onto the surface of a scroll. It was owned by a Zen monk from a temple in Kyoto but was said to be created by Shūbun, another monk from a temple in Shôkoku-Ji.

Famous Japanese Paintings Painting detail of Reading in a Bamboo Grove (1446) by Tenshō Shūbun. Full scroll: 134.8 x 33.3 cm; Tenshō Shūbun, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Many Zen monks added a preface and extra poems to the scroll, making it hard to identify exactly who created this ancient Japanese artwork. However, it has been considered to be one of the only existing examples of Japanese drawings from that era that fit Shūbun’s signature style.

As such, this painting has been passed down the generations in the Myôchi-in Temple in Kyoto as a Shūbun original.


Sesshū Tōyō (1420 – 1506)

Where Artist LivedBitchū, Japan
Associated MovementsMuromachi Period
Famous Artworks
  • Landscapes of the Four Seasons (1469)
  • Sansui Chokan (Long Scroll of Landscapes) (1486)
  • Huike Offering His Arm to Bodhidharma (1496)

Sesshū Tōyō was one of the few traditional Japanese artists from the Muromachi period, who was highly respected, not only in Japan, but also in China. This was due to the influence of art from the Chinese Song Dynasty on his work, which he infused with his own Japanese style. Tōyō was considered the most influential artist who pioneered Japanese ink wash painting, which was founded by Tenshō Shūbun, his master who taught him Japanese art styles such as Sumi-e.

Japanese Artists Portrait of Sesshū Tōyō, c. 16th century; 不詳 unknown, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Tōyō took the traditional style of his master Shūbun and gave it a distinct Japanese character by incorporating areas with flatter dimensional space, thicker lines, and greater contrast between shadow and light. Tōyō was considered by his peers, as well as historians, to be the greatest painter in Japan.


Landscape of the Four Seasons (1486)

Date 1486
MediumInk and light color on paper
Dimensions (cm)40 x 1500
Where It Is HousedMōri Museum, Yamaguchi, Japan

Considered the greatest example of ink painting to come from Japan, Landscape of the Four Seasons is regarded by historians as Sesshū Tōyō’s best masterpiece. The 15-meter scroll depicts the various seasons of the year, starting with spring and ending in winter.

The Chinese influence can be seen in both the style and theme of the composition, yet Tōyō brought a Japanese character to this artwork, setting it apart from the art of the Chinese Dynasty.

Japanese Painting on Panels LEFT: Landscape of the Four Seasons, Winter (15th century) by Sesshū Tōyō; Sesshū Tōyō, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons | RIGHT: Landscape of the Four Seasons, Summer (15th century) by Sesshū Tōyō; Sesshū Tōyō, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Tōyō also painted other Japanese art styles and subjects, as seen in his Japanese drawings of Buddha and other Zen-influenced paintings. However, it is the Landscape of the Four Seasons that most defines his style and led to Tōyō’s status as a master of traditional Japanese art.

Japanese Painting Series LEFT: Landscape of the Four Seasons, Autumn (15th century) by Sesshū Tōyō; Sesshū Tōyō, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons | RIGHT: Landscape of the Four Seasons, Spring (15th century) by Sesshū Tōyō; Sesshū Tōyō, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons


Hasegawa Tōhaku (1539 – 1610)

Where Artist LivedNanao, Japan
Associated MovementsHasegawa School
Famous Artworks
  • Maple (1593)
  • Pine Trees and Flowering Plants (1593)
  • Pine Trees (1595)

Hasegawa Tōhaku was born in 1539 in the town of Nanao, Japan. He started his career as an artist by painting pictures of Buddha in his hometown and became successful enough to be a professional painter by his twenties. By his mid-30s, he had moved to Kyoto to study further at the highly respected Kanō school. Many of Tōhaku’s early works are in the style taught by this school.

After his studies at the Kanō school, Hasegawa Tōhaku began to develop his unique style of “Sumi-e” painting, which mimicked the styles of his minimalist predecessors.

Hasegawa Tōhaku was considered the fifth successor of the master Sesshū Tōyō and a master of the Azuchi-Momoyama period, along with his rival Kanō Eitoku. Tōhaku was respected throughout Japan for his incredible Japanese art and many of his works have been listed as national treasures in Japan.

Famous Japan Art Pine tree and flowering plants (1593) by Hasegawa Tōhaku; Hasegawa Tōhaku, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons


Pine Trees (1568 – 1600)

Date 1568 – 1600
MediumInk on paper
Dimensions (cm)156 x 356
Where It Is HousedTokyo National Museum, Tokyo, Japan

Also recognized as Shōrin-zu byōbu, this series of six screens is an exquisite example of Japanese drawing. Here, Tōhaku managed to capture light and movement with only ink as his chosen medium, allowing him to demonstrate a sense of added space, distance, and depth by applying three different layers of shading. Through his unique manipulation of brushstrokes, Tōhaku was able to create the impression of a receding landscape as one moves closer to it. 

“Shōrin-zu byōbu” demonstrates the rough application of brushstrokes on the paper, which creates a powerful visual of pine trees emerging from the empty background.

Japanese Art Styles Pine Trees (1486) by Hasegawa Tōhaku; Tokyo National Museum, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

The viewer can feel the wind moving through the grove by the artist’s use of specifically placed pine trees in the composition. Tōhaku wanted to create the impression of being drawn into the painting and achieved this by adding gentle layers of ink on the foreground to create the effect of depth and distance, and enlarge the appearance of the pine trees. 


Kanō Eitoku (1543 – 1590)

Where Artist LivedKyoto, Japan
Associated MovementsMomoyama Period
Famous Artworks
  • Painting of a Cypress (1590)
  • Scenes in and around the capital (c. 1590)
  • Birds and flowers of the four seasons (c. 1590)

Kanō Eitoku was born in 1543 in Kyoto, Japan, and was the grandson of master Kanō Motonobu. Motonobu taught his grandson in a style that was greatly influenced by the dominant Chinese movements. Along with other members of his family such as his father, Eitoku was renowned for his work in temples, where he installed painted ceilings, sliding door paintings, and decorated standing screens.

Famous Japanese Artwork Birds and flowers of the four seasons (16th century) by Kanō Eitoku, part of the paintings on room partitions in the abbot’s quarters of Jukō-in of Daitoku-ji, Kyoto, Japan, ink on paper. This picture shows four of 16 panels on fusuma (sliding doors) in the ritual room; Kanō Eitoku (狩野永徳) and his father Kanō Shōei (狩野松栄), Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Kanō Eitoku’s biggest contribution to the Kanō school’s selection of styles was his monumental style, otherwise known as Taiga, which was characterized by the use of bold brushwork, figures that are disproportionately large, and an emphasis on objects in the foreground. Eitoku was vastly popular in his time and had many patrons who commissioned his work.

The most well-known of these pieces was the eight-panel screen depicting a Cypress tree.


Painting of a Cypress Tree (1590)

Date 1590
MediumInk on paper with gold leaf
Dimensions (cm)170 x 460 
Where It Is HousedTokyo National Museum, Tokyo, Japan

This folding screen painting consists of eight panels and depicts a landscape with a cypress tree in the foreground. Constructed from several panels joined together, these screens were used to divide sections of interior spaces to provide privacy to large rooms and parts of a home. 

However, Eitoku did not originally paint this scene on a folding screen, but painted it on a sliding door. The folding screen was then used in an aristocratic residence that was built in 1590.

Eitoku painted the trees using a heavy hand and a brush to convey the effect of an overwhelming force, and covered the background in gold leaf. The overall contrast of the piece was achieved using strong lines and a limited color palette to create a striking composition. 

Famous Japanese Art Styles Cypress Trees (16th century) by Kanō Eitoku; Kanō Eitoku, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons


Tawaraya Sōtatsu (1570 – 1643)

Where Artist LivedKyoto, Japan
Associated MovementsRinpa school
Famous Artworks
  • Waterfowl in the lotus pond (c. 1630)
  • Wind God and Thunder God (c. 1630)
  • Sekiya and Miotsukushi (1631)

Although the exact date of Tawaraya Sōtatsu’s date of birth remains unknown, it was estimated to be around 1570. Tawaraya Sōtatsu was most famous for his collaborations with Hon’ami Kōetsu, whom he created many decorative and calligraphic works with, including amazing folding screens, many of which have become national treasures of Japan. Iconic examples of these screens include Wind God and Thunder God (c. 1630) and Sekiya and Miotsukushi (1631). 

Ancient Japanese Art Wind God Fujin (right) and Thunder God Raijin (left) by Tawaraya Sōtatsu, 17th century; 俵屋宗達 (Tawaraya Sotatsu) (1570-1643), Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Sōtatsu was also a Japanese furniture designer and artist of the Rinpa school, which was not a school in traditional terms, but rather a collective of artists creating Japanese drawings and other artworks influenced by Kōetsu and Sōtatsu. He was also known for pioneering Tarashikomi, a technique in which one adds drop after drop of color while the previous layer is still wet.


Sekiya and Miotsukushi (1631)

Date 1631
MediumInk, color, and gold on paper
Dimensions (cm)152.6 x 355.6 
Where It Is HousedSeikadō Bunko Art Museum, Tokyo, Japan

This beautiful work by Sōtatsu is considered a masterpiece by Japanese art historians. Depicting the artist’s personal interpretation of the traditional Genji painting style, Sōtatsu adapts the Genji style of miniature Japanese drawing to a larger scale format, while helping to transform the visual storytelling element of Genji illustration through the use of simplified and clean geometry.

Japanese Artwork TOP: Chapter I of the Tale of Genji, Sekiya, and Miotsukushi (17th century) by Tawaraya Sōtatsu; Tawaraya Sōtatsu, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons | BOTTOM: Chapter II of the Tale of Genji, Sekiya, and Miotsukushi (17th century) by Tawaraya Sōtatsu; Tawaraya Sōtatsu, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

This piece consists of two screens, each one representing a random meeting between the character Genji and his former lover. Each screen portrays gates, which represent travel and was likely the main reason that they were paired together. This painting was one of two works by Sōtatsu that have been dated with accuracy and is thus considered vital in understanding the artist’s history, of which not much is known.


Ogata Kōrin (1658 – 1716)

Where Artist LivedKyoto, Japan
Associated MovementsRinpa school
Famous Artworks
  • Irises screen (1705)
  • Chrysanthemums (1706)
  • Red and White Plum Blossoms (1710)

Ogata Kōrin was born in 1658 into a wealthy family that dealt with the sale and design of textiles to the richer women of the city. His father introduced him to the various arts and he often worked together with his brother, Kenzan. Not only did he paint in various Japanese art styles, but he also was a designer and lacquerer. However, Kōrin is most well known for his decorated folding screens.

Painting by Japanese Artists Important Art Object Flowering Plants in Autumn (18th century), attributed to Ogata Kōrin; Attributed to Ogata Kōrin, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Kōrin has also been noted as reviving the Rinpa school, which had been founded 50 years previously by masters Sōtatsu and Hon’ami Kōetsu. Kōrin disregarded the norms and conventions of Naturalism and created his unique style, which encompassed the use of simplified forms and the styles of Impressionism.

Kōrin focused on using patterns of color in an abstract manner to convey a sense of flat, one-dimensional decorative design.


Red and White Plum Blossoms (1710)

Date 1710
MediumColor with silver and gold leaf on paper
Dimensions (cm)156 x 172 
Where It Is HousedMOA Museum of Art, Atami, Japan

Red and White Plum Blossoms is one of the most famous paintings in Japan, currently residing at the MOA Museum of Art in Atami, and is registered as a national treasure. This simple yet beautifully stylized two-panel folding screen portrays a flowing river decorated with swirling flat waves and plum trees on either side of it. The presence of plum blossoms suggests to the viewer that the scene represents the spring period.

Japanese Artwork Panels Red and White Plum Blossoms (1710) by Ogata Kōrin; Ogata Kōrin, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

This work is considered a great example of the Rinpa school of painting, where Kōrin applied a technique called Tarashikomi to create the mottled look of the trees. This texture is created by placing a series of droplets on each other without the usual period of drying, usually practiced when painting. It is thought that, based on the dating of the paintings and other evidence, this was most likely Ogata Kōrin’s final painted piece before his passing in 1716.


Kitagawa Utamaro (1753 – 1806)

Where Artist LivedEdo, Japan
Associated MovementsUkiyo-e period
Famous Artworks
  • Three Beauties of the Present Day (1793)
  • Needlework (1794)
  • Women Playing in the Mirror (1797)

Kitagawa Utamaro was born in Edo in 1753 and is regarded as one of the most famous Japanese artists regarding the Ukiyo-e style of woodblock paintings and prints. Utamaro was also famous for his Japanese drawings, which featured large-headed women. Utamaro’s style also varied to include natural studies, in particular, a series of illustrated books about insects.

Japanese Drawings Portrait of Utamaro, drawn in 1931; 井上和雄編 渡辺版画店 1931, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Utamaro’s artwork eventually reached the shores of Europe, where it was well received. His emphasis on shadow and light and his application of partial views were said to have greatly influenced many European Impressionists.

When European artists referred to the “Japanese influence”, they were usually referring to the work of Kitagawa Utamaro.


Three Beauties of the Present Day (1793)

Date 1793
MediumColor woodblock print
Dimensions (cm)37.9 x 24.9 
Where It Is HousedMuseum of Fine Arts, Boston, Massachusetts, United States

This composition depicts three women in a triangular formation. The women were all celebrities at the time and were regular subjects of the artist’s work. Each female figure is adorned with clothing bearing their family crests. Despite their highly stylized faces, one can still make out the individual characteristics portrayed on each face, which differed from the usual style of portraying faces noted in the works of artists who preceded Utamaro.

Traditional Japanese Art Three Beauties of the Present Day (c. 1793) by Kitagawa Utamaro; Kitagawa Utamaro, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

This form of art was very popular in the 17th to 19th centuries, with subjects that focused on everyday life, including kabuki actors and courtesans, as well as those associated with the pleasure districts of Japanese culture. These kinds of prints were created primarily for advertising the local areas of entertainment.

Today, “Three Beauties of the Present Day” is considered a masterpiece and is the best example of Utamaro’s earlier style.


Katsushika Hokusai (1760 – 1849)

Where Artist LivedEdo, Japan
Associated MovementsUkiyo-e
Famous Artworks
  • The Great Wave Off Kanagawa (1829)
  • Thirty-six Views of Mt. Fuji (1830)
  • A Tour of the Waterfalls of the Provinces (1832)

Katsushika Hokusai was born on the 31st of October, 1760, and was famous for transforming a style that was largely focused on actors, courtesans, and beautiful women by broadening the subject matter and introducing works that included plants, animals, and landscapes. Out of the majority of Japanese artists, Hokusai was the most internationally renowned Japanese artist, largely due to The Great Wave Off Kanagawa, which is considered an iconic masterpiece in Japanese art history. 

Famous Japanese Artists A self-portrait of Katsushika Hokusai at the age of 83; Public Domain, Link

Hokusai was said to have used over 30 various aliases, through which he created Japanese paintings and other styles such as woodblock printing. His most important contribution to Japanese art was created after he had turned 60 and includes his depiction of the holy mountain throughout the seasons, known as the Thirty-Six Views of Mount Fuji (1829-1833).


The Great Wave Off Kanagawa (1829)

Date 1892
MediumWoodblock print
Dimensions (cm)25.7 x 37.8 
Where It Is HousedThe Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City, United States

The Great Wave Off Kanagawa is known as the most recognizable Japanese painting in the world and is Hokusai’s most well-known artwork. It was published around 1892 as the first print from the series Thirty-Six Views of Mount Fuji. The painting depicts a huge threatening wave that towers above three small fishing vessels in Sagami Bay, with Mount Fuji in the distant background.

The size of the wave has led some to assume that the painting depicts a tsunami, while others suggest that it was more likely a representation of an enormous rogue wave.

Following a period of isolation from the West, Japanese art styles were exported to Europe, where they were quickly adopted and recognized as a period called Japonism. This particular piece was renowned for its impact on European art culture, with artists such as Vincent van Gogh, a huge admirer of Hokusai’s work, praising the quality of line in the Japanese drawing, stating that the visual had an impact that could be described as “emotionally terrifying”.

Famous Japanese Art The Great Wave off Kanagawa (1829) from 36 Views of Mount Fuji by Katsushika Hokusai. Although it is often used in tsunami literature, there is no reason to suspect that Hokusai intended it to be interpreted in that way. The waves in this work are sometimes mistakenly referred to as tsunami, but they are more accurately called okinami, being great off-shore waves; After Katsushika Hokusai, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons


Tomioka Tessai (1837 – 1924)

Where Artist LivedKyoto, Japan
Associated MovementsNihonga movement
Famous Artworks
  • Abe-no-Nakamaro (1918)
  • Encountering with Immortal Women (1919)
  • Two Divinities Dancing (1924)

Born in 1837 as Tomioka Yūsuke, Tomioka Tessai was the pseudonym of this famous Japanese artist. Tomioka Tessai was known for being the last practitioner of the Bunjinga tradition, as well as a forefather of the Nihonga style. Born into a merchant family, his inability to hear led him to become a scholar and he pursued the fields of literature and philosophy instead of becoming a merchant. 

Portrait of Japanese Artists Portrait of Tomioka Tessai, before 1923; Unknown author Unknown author, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

After the death of his father, Tessai moved to a Shinto shrine, where he spent more than 10 years studying under numerous accomplished painters. He eventually developed his unique style, which was inspired by the rising influence of Western art on the Eastern world, and moved Tessai to advocate for a return to traditional styles of painting, hence initiating the Nihonga movement in Japan.


Abe-no-Nakamaro Writing a Nostalgic Poem While Viewing the Moon (1918)

Date 1918
MediumColor on silk
Dimensions (cm)52 x 145.2 
Where It Is HousedAdachi Museum of Art, Yasugi, Japan

This beautiful masterpiece was created by Tomioka Tessai in 1918. This silk canvas features a landscape of rural Japan, depicted in vivid red and green hues that bring to life the otherwise beige and dull composition. The painting depicts a tranquil scene, in which a figure can be seen seated underneath one of the pagodas.

The figure depicted was of the famous poet and scholar Abe-no-Nakamaro from the Nara period. As the name of the painting suggests, he is engaged in the act of writing poetry, something for which he was highly revered, while watching the full moon rise over the distant hills.

Japan Art Abe-no-Nakamaro Writing a Nostalgic Poem While Moon-viewing (1918) by Tomioka Tessai; Tomioka Tessai, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons


Takashi Murakami (1962 – Present)

Where Artist LivedItabashi City, Tokyo, Japan
Associated MovementsSuperflat style and Contemporary art
Famous Artworks
  • Smooth Nightmare (2000)
  • My Lonesome Cowboy (1998)
  • Tan Tan Bo (2014)

Takashi Murakami was born on the 1st of February 1962, and is recognized as one of the most influential Contemporary artists of the 21st century. Murakami works across a variety of media, including painting, animation, and sculpture, inspired by fashion and popular culture. 

Murakami is credited with coining the term “Superflat”, which describes his unique style informed by the aesthetics of modern Japanese culture in the post-war era.

This style points towards an underlying legacy of two-dimensional flat imagery that permeated Japanese art and film industries in the late-20th century. Similar to the Pop art movement, “Superflat” sought to up-cycle visual elements that were considered “low-art” and repackage them in a fresh manner to elevate them to the level of “high-art”.

Modern Japanese Art Abstract “Superflat” image by artist Takashi Murakami at the London Gallery; Tadeas Navratil, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons


Smooth Nightmare (2000)

Date 2000
MediumPC print, pen, marker, and tape
Dimensions (cm)40 x 40 
Where It Is HousedPrivate collection

Takashi Murakami was dubbed “the Andy Warhol of Asia” and is considered the most famous Japanese artist to date. Smooth Nightmare is representative of his “Superflat” aesthetic that incorporates imagery with no visible depth of space. The artwork depicts various objects that seem to morph between human-like figures and mushrooms. A central figure illustrated by a mushroom with eyes takes up most of the canvas, with the background illustrated in a flat gray hue.


Today, we have learned about the top 10 most famous Japanese artists, whose unique styles and contributions to traditional Japanese art have shaped the history of art in Japan and influenced many Western thinkers. There is no better way to understand and appreciate Japanese art than by studying the figures who built its foundations. 



Take a look at our Japanese painting webstory here!



Frequently Asked Questions


Does Japanese Art Differ From Other Eastern Cultures?

Japanese art is distinct from the art of different Eastern cultures and was deeply influenced by traditional art from the Chinese Song Dynasty. Early Japanese artists adapted the styles and techniques from China and Korea to better suit their own aesthetic and it was not long before Japanese artists created their own variations. After a period of isolation from the rest of the world, due to war, the Japanese art style would eventually leave the borders of Japan and go on to influence the rest of the world, such as Europe, where many Impressionists took a liking to styles promoted in Ukiyo-e art.


What Is Japan’s Most Famous Painting?

The Great Wave Off Kanagawa (c. 1831) is undoubtedly the most well-known Japanese painting in the world. It was published around 1892 as the first print of the series Thirty-Six Views of Mount Fuji (1829-1833), which was created by the Japanese master Katsushika Hokusai.


What Are the Different Forms of Traditional Japanese Art?

There are numerous forms of traditional Japanese art that encompass both ancient and modern art forms. These include ShodoIkebanaUkiyo-e woodblock printing, lacquerware decoration called ShikkiKodo, and tea ceremonies, which date back to the Heian period. Lastly, traditional dance and theater are also considered traditional art forms that date back more than 500 years, and encompass Noh and Kabuki musical performances. 


Cite this Article

Isabella, Meyer, “Japanese Art – 10 Important Japanese Artists and Artworks.” Art in Context. August 6, 2021. URL: https://artincontext.org/japanese-art/

Meyer, I. (2021, 6 August). Japanese Art – 10 Important Japanese Artists and Artworks. Art in Context. https://artincontext.org/japanese-art/

Meyer, Isabella. “Japanese Art – 10 Important Japanese Artists and Artworks.” Art in Context, August 6, 2021. https://artincontext.org/japanese-art/.

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One Comment

  1. Very accessible starter page for me in wanting to learn something about Japanese visual art. Beautiful images and a respect-evoking video, as well. Thank you.

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