Most Famous Japanese Paintings and Artworks

I have always been fascinated by Japan's long history of art. Their artworks makes my imagination travel through time. I always see the Japanese tradition and culture portrayed from their paintings and artworks.

I personally enjoyed what's in this list and find myself staring for minutes to the artworks. As a consequence, it takes me longer to finish this post. I hope you enjoy and may you get some inspiration from these compelling masterpieces.

1. The Great Wave off Kanagawa - Katsushika Hokusai

The image depicts an enormous wave threatening boats off the coast of the prefecture of Kanagawa. 

It is Hokusai's most famous work, and one of the most recognizable works of Japanese art in the world.

2. Fuji from Kawaguchi Lake - Hiroshi Yoshida

Hiroshi Yoshida is known as one of the most important figures of the shin-hanga style (shin-hanga was an  art movement in early 20th-century Japan, during the Taisho and Showa periods, that revitalized traditional  ukiyo-e art rooted in the Edo and Meiji periods (17th–19th century). He was trained in the Western oil  painting tradition, which was adopted in Japan during the Meiji period.

3. Tiger - Kawanabe Kyosai

Kawanabe Kyosai was one of the most prominent Japanese artists of the Edo period. His art was influenced  by the work of Tohaku, a Kano artist of the sixteenth century who was the only artist of his period to paint  screens entirely in ink on a delicate background of powdered gold. Although Kyosai is best-known as  caricaturist, he created some of the most notable paintings in the Japanese history of art of the 19th  Century. Tiger is one of these paintings where Kyosai used watercolor and ink to create this picture.

4. Ten Studies in Female Physiognomy, A Collection of Reigning Beauties - Kitagawa Utamaro

Utamaro was a prominent Japanese painter and artist who was born in 1753 and died in 1806. He  is certainly best-known for his series entitled Ten Studies in Female Physiognomy, A Collection of Reigning  Beauties, Great Love Themes of Classical Poetry (sometimes called Women in Love containing individual  prints such as Revealed Love and Pensive Love). He is one of the most important artists who belonging to  the ukiyo-e genre of woodblock prints.

5. Sunrise over the Eastern Sea - Fujishima Takeji

Fujishima Takeji was a Japanese painter, noted for his work in developing Romanticism and Impressionist  art within the yoga (Western-style) art movement in late 19th- and early 20th-century Japanese painting.  In 1905, he traveled to France, where he was influenced by French movements of that time, particularly by  Impressionism, which can be seen in his painting Sunrise over the Eastern Sea that was executed in 1932.

6. Abe-no-Nakamaro Writing Nostalgic Poem While Moon-viewing - Tomioka Tessai

Tessai is a pseudonym for a famous Japanese artist and calligrapher. He is regarded as the last  major artist in the Bunjinga tradition and one of the first major artists of the Nihonga style. Bunjinga  tradition was s a school of Japanese painting which flourished in the late Edo period among artists who  considered themselves literati, or intellectuals. Each of these artists, including Tessai developed their own  style and technique, but all of them were great admirers of Chinese art and culture.  

7. The Dream of the Fisherman's Wife - Katsushika Hokusai

The composition depicts a young ama diver entwined sexually with a pair of octopuses. This image was  quite influential in the 19th and 20th Century. The work has influenced later artists such as Félicien Rops,  Auguste Rodin, Louis Aucoc, Fernand Khnopff, and Pablo Picasso.

8. Fine Wind, Clear Morning (Red Fuji) - Katsushika Hokusai

The work has been described as "one of the simplest and at the same time one of the most outstanding of  all Japanese prints"

9. Sudden Shower over Shin-Ohashi bridge and Atake - Ando Hiroshige

Sudden Shower over Shin-Ohashi bridge and Atake is a woodblock print in the ukiyo-e genre by the Japanese artist Hiroshige. It was published in 1857 as  part of the series One Hundred Famous Views of Edo and is one of the best known of Hiroshige's prints.

10. Ban Dainagon Ekotoba (The Tale of Great Minister Ban) - Tokiwa Mitsunaga

Ban Dainagon Ekotoba is a late 12th century emakimono (handscroll  painting) depicting the events of the Otemmon Conspiracy, an event of Japan's early Heian period.

The scroll itself depicts the events of the Otenmon conspiracy involving Tomo no Yoshio, which occurred on  the tenth day of the third month of 866. Tomo no Yoshio’s regret was emphasized in the scrolls through the  written text in an attempt to protect against the vengeful will of Tomo no Yoshio’s spirit.

11. Three Beauties of the Present Day - Kitagawa Utamaro

Three Beauties of the Present Day is a woodblock print from by Japanese artist Kitagawa  Utamaro. The triangular composition depicts the profiles of three celebrity beauties of the time: geisha  Tomimoto Toyohina, and teahouse waitresses Naniwa Kita and Takashima Hisa.

12. Cypress Trees - Kano Eitoku

Cypress Trees is a folding screen attributed to the Japanese painter Kano Eitoku, one of the most prominent  patriarchs of the Kano school of Japanese painting. The painting dates to the Azuchi–Momoyama period  (1573–1615). Now in Tokyo National Museum, it has been designated a National Treasure.

13. Hikone screen

The Hikone screen is a Japanese painted byobu folding screen of unknown authorship. The screen folds in  six parts and is painted on gold-leaf paper. It depicts a scene in which eleven male and female figures  amuse themselves. On the left, a blind man and some women play shamisens before a four-panel byobu  screen with a landscape painted on it. To their right a group of men and women play a sugoroku board  game. 

14. Oceans of Wisdom (Chie no umi) - Katsushika Hokusai

Chie no umi is a chuban yoko-e (19 × 25.4 cm) sized woodblock print series by the Japanese artist  Hokusai. The ten fishing-themed prints comprise one of Hokusai's rarest sets.

(a). Fishing by Torchlight in Kai Province

(b). Whaling off Goto

(c). Fishing at Uraga in Sagami Province

(d). Choshi in Shimosa Province

(e). The Tonegawa River in Shimosa Province

(f). Basket-fishing in the Kinu River

(g). Fly-fishing

(h). Waiting Nets

(i). Fishing in the Miyato River

(j). Noboto in Shimosa Province

15. Takiyasha the Witch and the Skeleton Spectre - Utagawa Kuniyoshi

Takiyasha the Witch and the Skeleton Spectre is an ukiyo-e woodblock triptych by Japanese artist Utagawa Kuniyoshi (1798–1861). Kuniyoshi was  known for his depictions of historical and mythical scenes, and combined both in portraying the tenth- century princess Takiyasha summoning a skeleton spectre to frighten Oya no Mitsukuni.

In the image, the princess recites a spell written on a handscroll, summoning a giant skeleton. It rears out  of a black void, crashing its way through the tattered palace blinds with its bony fingers to menace  Mitsukuni and his companion.