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Japanese pictorial art

There are many various categories in Japanese pictorial art.
So in this page, I introduce some characteristic categories.

Traditional Japanese painting

Painting on fusuma (Nin'naji, Kyoto)Traditonal Japanese paintings have been drawn since very old times.
They are painted with not oils but powdered mineral pigments. So we can find few gradation or overlap of color on any picture.

Ernest Francisco Fenollosa (1853-1908), who was an art historian in America and was invited to Japan to teach philosophy in the late 19th century, showed the following points of Japanese paintings.

  1. It doesn't pursue realism like photo.
  2. The picture image has no shadings.
  3. The picture image has line contour.
  4. Used colors aren't strong.
  5. The expression is very simple.

The objects are mainly person, nature and Gods.
And the pictures were painted on not only papers but also byobu (folding screen) or fusuma (sliding screen of Japanese room).

Yamatane Museum of Art : The museum for Japanese pictorial art in Tokyo. You can find some sample pictures on this site.

Suibokuga / Sumie

SuibokugaSuibokuga is one of Japanese paintings, and it is the picture painted with only black ink. In Japanese we also call it "Sumie".

It was introduced from China around the 12th century.
We use a brush and black "sumi" ink in calligraphy.
When Suibokuga is created, these tools are used.

The color is only black, but it is painted with contrasting density and gradation of ink.
The main object of picture is landscape.


Ukiyoe is woodblock print made between the 17th and the 19th centuries.

"Ukiyo" means "the life of citizens", and "e" means "painting".
So on most Ukiyoe, a beautiful lady, a Kabuki actor, a Sumo wrestler or a tourist spot are painted on a sheet. These were like commercial photo portraits or tour guidebook.
Additionally they were used as the illustration in books or on callendars.
There were also the Ukiyoe like comics or pornographic painting.

Ukiyoe Many copies are made, so a part of them are taken to Europe.
As a result, it is said that Ukiyoe had a major impact on French Impressionism.
I think that Ukiyoe is one of most popular Japanese art for world people.

Famous painters are the following.

  • Utamaro Kitagawa (1753-1806) : He painted many beautiful ladies.
  • Sharaku Toshusai (?-?) : He painted Kabuki actors.
  • Hokusai Katsushika (1760-1849) : He painted 36 sceans of Mt.Fuji.
  • Hiroshige Utagawa (1797-1858) : He painted many landscape.


Emakimono Emakimono has a unique form of painting.
Many papers are connected horizontally, so the picture plane has 30-50 centimeters wide and 10-20 meters long.
And it is rolled compactly.

Commonly continuous story or visual scene was painted on it. So we can find some Emakimonos on which pictures and words are put alternately.

This form is for one viewer like reading a book.
The viewer see it in sequence from end to end with rolling.

Most Emakimonos were mainly produced between the 11th and 16th centuries.

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