6 Traditional Japanese Art Styles & Where to See Them (2023 Update) (2023)

CULTURE | Traditions


Article | January 2nd, 2023 | Dayna Hannah


6 Traditional Japanese Art Styles & Where to See Them (2023 Update) (1)

Historically, Japan went through several periods of opening and closing its borders to foreign trade. The Japanese adopted new ideas from countries like China, and they would transform these concepts during isolationist periods. This practice allowed for the creation of the culture we’re familiar with today.

One aspect of Japanese culture visitors love exploring is the art world. Traditional Japanese art has fascinated the world for centuries because it's elegant yet uncomplicated, with heavy influences from Shintoism and Buddhism. Here, we’ve prepared a list of six traditional Japanese art styles, and how you can experience them.


6 Traditional Japanese Art Styles & Where to See Them (2023 Update) (2)

What is Shodo?

In the 5th century, Japan adopted Chinese characters (kanji) as a writing system and calligraphy as a craft. The Japanese developed a distinctive style of calligraphy called shodo, which sometimes also uses hiragana and katakana. Although it might look like a sloppy ink painting to the untrained eye, this ancient Japanese art form follows strict techniques.

The main styles of shodo writing are kaisho (block lettering), gyosho (semi-cursive), and sosho (cursive). Elementary school students learn kaisho penmanship, and some adults continue practicing calligraphy as a hobby. You might see displays of amateur gyosho or sosho in public areas like train stations or town halls.

Where to Experience Shodo:

Temples and cultural centers hold beginner lessons in English that travelers can join. You can find classes all over Japan, especially in the historic neighborhoods of Kyoto and Tokyo. A typical session starts with a short seminar on the history of the shodo, followed by a guided workshop. The entire experience usually takes around one or two hours.

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What is Ikebana?

Shintoists and Buddhists using evergreen plants and flowers for worship probably led to the evolution of Ikebana floral arrangements. There are thousands of schools of Ikebana today, each with individual varieties of style. Some practice techniques similar to sculpture and pay close attention to the colors, lines, forms, and functions of each blossom. Others mimic the flowers’ natural conditions and try to show them as they grew in the wild.

Many displays use seasonal flowers in either elaborate or uncomplicated compositions. Given the artist’s skill, a single standing flower can make as powerful of an impact as a detailed design. Although sometimes wildly different, all arrangement styles strive to preserve the blooms and clippings for as long as possible.

How to Try Ikebana:

Japanese art galleries, exhibition halls, and local government offices often hold Ikebana displays. If you’d like to try your hand at it, you can find classes throughout the country. Ikebana schools hold sessions for beginners or trial lessons for total novices, but require reservations. Depending on how immersive of an experience you please, one seminar can last between one and several hours.

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6 Traditional Japanese Art Styles & Where to See Them (2023 Update) (4)

What is Taiko?

Archeological records suggest ancient Japanese cultures have used some form of percussion instruments since the Neolithic period. Taking inspiration from China, Korea, and India, Japan created taiko drums during the 6th century. Taiko performances often accompany religious rituals, theatrical performances, and celebratory festivals.

If you visit Japan in summer, the low rumblings of Japanese drums will welcome you to annual jubilees like Obon. According to Buddhist traditions, the veil between this world and the next grows thin in August. To celebrate, Japanese people dress in yukata kimono and perform the Bon Odori to dance with their ancestors. If you aren’t traveling during this time of year, there are plenty of ways to enjoy taiko drums.

Learn How to Play the Taiko:

If you’re looking for a high-energy activity, a Japanese taiko drum class might be just what you need. Japanese-style drumming is a full-body workout, but still accessible for children and retirees. During a lesson, your instructor will show you the correct positions and techniques before leading you through a rhythmic song. At the end of the workshop, you’ll feel ready to do a full-fledged performance.


6 Traditional Japanese Art Styles & Where to See Them (2023 Update) (5)

What is the Green Tea Ceremony?

Buddhist monks introduced green tea from China in the 8th century as a medicinal cure. In the Muromachi period (1333-1573) it became fashionable for the noble classes to drink the beverage in Zen-inspired ritualistic parties. Every Japanese tea ceremony step, tool, and snack holds significance.

Part of the beauty of participating in a tea ceremony is enjoying the hospitality of your gracious host. Tea masters and sometimes maiko (apprentice geisha) guide the proceedings with deft artistry. To lead an event, a host must spend years studying every flick of the wrist and movement of the finger.

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Attending a Green Tea Ceremony:

A full formal tea ceremony takes several hours and includes a kaiseki dinner, but most tea houses offer abridged versions. The best places to participate in a tea ceremony are in temples or Japanese gardens, which add a lovely atmosphere. Uji City near Kyoto is also a desirable location for aficionados who want to try Japan’s tastiest tea.


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What is Bonsai?

Potting miniature trees came from China, but bonsai pruning has become epitomical of classic Japanese art. Practitioners use different methods to keep the trees small but in proportion to how they would look in nature. Bonsai tree pruning techniques include trimming the roots or wiring the trunks to encourage specific growth patterns.

Typical trees used in bonsai are pine, maple, and cherry blossoms. It takes careful attention to detail to keep them from overgrowing. They say to appreciate bonsai you must take in an overall impression, then bend down to lower your line of sight. This way, you can imagine what it would look like in the forest.

Where to See Bonsai Trees:

After the Great Kanto Earthquake in 1923, gardeners and bonsai nursery workers needed a safe place to move. They chose Omiya City for its clean water and fertile soil, and Omiya Bonsai Village was born. You can find several nurseries across the village and walk through the many gardens. Visitors can learn more about the various aspects and styles of bonsai at the Omiya Bonsai Art Museum.


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What is Ukiyo-e?

When thinking about traditional Japanese artwork, most people imagine ukiyo-e woodblock prints. During the 17th and 19th centuries, the merchant class rose in prosperity and began to purchase luxuries for their homes. They collected uikiyo-e because many pieces featured sumo wrestlers and actors, but some artists used natural sceneries and legendary heroes as their subjects.

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From this period of Japanese art history rose one of the most beloved Japanese artists, Katsushika Hokusai. His landscape The Great Wave Off Kanagawa is among the most famous Japanese prints. Following his and his contemporaries' deaths, ukiyo-e saw a steep decline in production. However, there are still many places where you can see it today.

Where to See Ukiyo-e:

Several art museums across Japan house permanent or temporary ukiyo-e exhibitions. The Ohara Museum of Art opened to commemorate the works of Kojima Torajiro. It specializes in contemporary and Western styles, but there is an annex with traditional Japanese art, including woodblock prints. In Nagano, you can also visit the Hokusai Museum and the Japan Ukiyo-e Museum.



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6 Traditional Japanese Art Styles & Where to See Them (2023 Update)? ›

Japanese art covers a wide range of art styles and media, including ancient pottery, sculpture, ink painting and calligraphy on silk and paper, ukiyo-e paintings and woodblock prints, ceramics, origami, and more recently manga which is modern Japanese cartoons and comics along with a myriad of other types.

What are the styles of traditional Japanese art? ›

Japanese art covers a wide range of art styles and media, including ancient pottery, sculpture, ink painting and calligraphy on silk and paper, ukiyo-e paintings and woodblock prints, ceramics, origami, and more recently manga which is modern Japanese cartoons and comics along with a myriad of other types.

What is the most popular Japanese art style? ›

The most popular piece of Japanese art is the woodblock print The Great Wave Off Kanagawa by Hokusai from the Edo Period.

What are 2 popular Japanese arts? ›

The highly refined traditional arts of Japan include such forms as the tea ceremony, calligraphy, and ikebana (flower arranging) and gardening, as well as architecture, painting, and sculpture.

What are Japan's oldest art forms and probably its most popular? ›

Japanese pottery is among the finest in the world and includes the earliest known Japanese artifacts; Japanese export porcelain has been a major industry at various points. Japanese lacquerware is also one of the world's leading arts and crafts, and works gorgeously decorated with maki-e were exported to Europe and ...

What are the 5 types of traditional arts? ›

Traditional categories within the arts include literature (including poetry, drama, story, and so on), the visual arts (painting, drawing, sculpture, etc.), the graphic arts (painting, drawing, design, and other forms expressed on flat surfaces), the plastic arts (sculpture, modeling), the decorative arts (enamelwork, ...

What is modern Japanese art called? ›

Nihonga is style of art unique to Japan, unsurprisingly as the name literally means Japanese painting. Since the 19th century nihonga artists have been producing breathtaking works that are too little seen outside of the country.

What is the most influential Japanese art? ›

Katsushika Hokusai - The Great Wave off Kanagawa

Finally, The Great Wave off Kanagawa by Katsushika Hokusai is probably the most recognizable Japanese painting ever made. It's actually the most prominent piece of art “made in Japan”.

What are the five known arts in Japan? ›

Japanese art is the painting, calligraphy, architecture, pottery, sculpture, and other visual arts produced in Japan from about 10,000 BCE to the present.

Where can I see Yoshitomo Nara? ›

His art work has been housed at the MoMA and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA).

What are the 4 types of Japanese paintings? ›

Distinctively Evolved Fine Art of Japan

Famous traditional Japanese painting styles are “Kanou-style”, “Enzan-Shijou-style”, and “Yamatoe-style”.

What is the old Japanese art style called? ›

Ukiyo-e is a genre of Japanese art which flourished from the 17th through 19th centuries.

What are 3 popular arts and crafts of Japan? ›

Just think about Japanese sake, origami, haiku's, Japanese knives, kokeshi dolls, washi paper, kimono making, folding fans (sensu), Japanese umbrella (wagasa) and old fashioned anime. These are just some examples of world-famous Japanese crafts for you to enjoy / try when you are in Japan.

What is the golden age of Japanese art? ›

The Heian period is often called Japan's golden age. Dur- ing this time, aristocrats led a great flourishing of Japanese culture. The aristocrats prized beauty, elegance, and correct manners. Over time, they developed new forms of literature and art.

What art is considered as one of the oldest and most highly refined arts of Japan? ›

Japanese painting is one of the oldest and most highly refined of the Japanese visual arts, encompassing a wide variety of genres and styles.

What art form is considered the oldest one? ›

Jewelry is the oldest art form of humanity. The earliest known and identified ornaments date back to about 150,000 BCE, long before the first painted cave decorations. It is impressive to realize that at L'ÉCOLE, School of Jewelry Arts, our daily subject - jewelry - has accompanied humanity for millennia.

What are the 6 traditional arts? ›

  • Rites (禮)
  • Music (樂)
  • Archery (射)
  • Chariotry or Equestrianism (御)
  • Calligraphy (書)
  • Mathematics (數)

What are 6 modern art styles? ›

While there are many movements within modern art, the most distinct include Realism, Impressionism, Expressionism, Cubism, Dadaism, Abstract Impressionism, and Pop Art.

What are the 7 original arts? ›

The seven different art forms are Painting, Sculpture, Literature, Architecture, Theater, Film, and Music.

What is cute Japanese art called? ›

The cuteness culture, or kawaii aesthetic, has become a prominent aspect of Japanese popular culture, entertainment, clothing, food, toys, personal appearance, and mannerisms.

What is a Japanese art that is performed in a stylish manner? ›

Kabuki, traditional Japanese popular drama with singing and dancing performed in a highly stylized manner.

What is Japanese Zen art? ›

Zen art is known for its elegant simplicity, embodied in the many paintings and calligraphies in this exhibit that consist of black ink on white paper or silk. With a few brushstrokes, Zen monks create expressions of enlightenment, from a simple circle to an image of Zen's Indian founder Bodhidharma.

What is unique art in Japanese? ›

Ukiyo-e are one of the most distinctive and unique styles of Japanese art. Although it's not an art form commonly practised today, its influence can be seen in such modern art forms as tattoo and fashion design.

What is the most famous Japanese print? ›

The Great Wave by Katsushika Hokusai, 1830, via The British Museum, London. By far the best known Ukiyo-e print of all time, The Great Wave as it is commonly known, comes from Hokusai's series titled 36 Views of Mount Fuji.

What country influenced Japanese art? ›

Although Japanese art has its own aesthetic, Japanese artists have a history of being influenced by Chinese art.

What is the oldest arts of Japan? ›

Japanese painting (絵画, kaiga, also gadō 画道) is one of the oldest and most highly refined of the Japanese visual arts, encompassing a wide variety of genres and styles.

What is the main subject in Japanese art? ›

Nature, and specifically mountains, have been a favorite subject of Japanese art since its earliest days. Before Buddhism was introduced from China in the 6th century, the religion known today as Shinto was the exclusive faith of the Japanese people.

What is the most popular craft in Japan? ›


Of all the many forms of traditional Japanese arts and crafts, 'origami' or 'paper-folding' is likely the best-known to international visitors.

How much is Yoshitomo Nara art? ›

Yoshitomo Nara's work has been offered at auction multiple times, with realized prices ranging from 1 USD to 24,954,070 USD, depending on the size and medium of the artwork.

How do you see deer in Nara? ›

Those who would like to learn more about Nara's deer are encouraged to visit Roku-en. Roku-en is an enclosure for the deer, located to the south of the stone lantern-lined path leading to Kasuga Taisha Shrine.

How do you get to Nara Japan? ›

The fastest way to get to Nara is the 35-minute limited rapid express from Osaka-Namba to Kintetsu Nara Station. This will cost 520 yen more than the regular express trains that take 5 minutes longer. Kintetsu Nara can also be reached from Kyoto Station in just over 30 minutes.

What are the Japanese 3 types? ›

Why does the Japanese language have to use three different types of script; Kanji, Hiragana and Katakana? A. This is because each of the three types of script, Kanji, Hiragana and Katakana, has its own specific role.

What is Japanese silk painting called? ›

In Japanese art, a silk canvas is called eginu. Both silk and paper were developed in ancient China, long before the time of Christ.

Which religion is native to Japan? ›

Shinto (literally “the way of the gods”) is Japan's native belief system and predates historical records. The many practices, attitudes, and institutions that have developed to make up Shinto revolve around the Japanese land and seasons and their relation with the human inhabitants.

What style of visual art is popular in Japan and is known as? ›

Nihonga, a general term for traditional Japanese painting, means, literally, "Japanese painting". Now in common use, this term originated during the Meiji period, to distinguish Japanese painting from Western-style oil painting.

What is Japanese street art called? ›

The word "graffiti" in Japanese translates to rakugaki [落書き], a term used to refer to the type of doodles that children make on class desks. It might seem from our European /American perspective that Tokyo and Japanese cities in general are places full of lights, signs, colours, advertisements.

What does ukiyo mean in English? ›

Ukiyo (浮世, "floating/fleeting/transient world") is the Japanese term used to describe the urban lifestyle and culture, especially the pleasure-seeking aspects, of Edo period Japan (1600–1867).

What is the oldest Japanese crafts and art forms? ›

Japanese pottery and porcelain, one of the country's oldest art forms, dates back to the Neolithic period.

What is shodo art? ›

Shodo is Japanese calligraphy – the art of writing with ink and brush. With these tools, one can create fantastic, pictorial characters or highly detailed, precise works of scripture.

What is the oldest pottery in Japan? ›

Odai Yamamoto I site in Aomori Prefecture currently has the oldest pottery in Japan. Excavations in 1998 uncovered forty-six earthenware fragments which have been dated as early as 14,500 BCE (ca 16,500 BP); this places them among the earliest pottery currently known. This appears to be plain, undecorated pottery.

What does Edo mean in Japanese? ›

Edo (Japanese: 江戸, lit. '"bay-entrance" or "estuary"'), also romanized as Jedo, Yedo or Yeddo, is the former name of Tokyo.

What are Japanese roofs called? ›

They are important, not only for their attractiveness but for their role in the structure. Japanese architecture is made up of four types of roofs: kirizuma (gabled roof), yosemune (hipped roof), irimoya (hip-and-gable roof), and hogyo (square pyramidal roof).

What is Yamato E style? ›

Yamato-e, (Japanese: “Japanese painting”), style of painting important in Japan during the 12th and early 13th centuries. It is a Late Heian style, secular and decorative with a tradition of strong colour.

What is the noblest of ancient tradition? ›

Renaissance art, perceived as the noblest of ancient traditions, took as its foundation the art of Classical antiquity, but transformed that tradition by absorbing recent developments in the art of Northern Europe and by applying contemporary scientific knowledge.

What type of arts flourished in Japan? ›

Ceramic and decorative arts flourished in the Edo period.

What is the oldest city on earth? ›

Jericho, Palestine

A small city with a population of 20,000 people, Jericho, which is located in Palestine, is believed to be the oldest city in the world. Indeed, some of the earliest archeological evidence from the area dates back 11,000 years.

Where is the oldest art in the world? ›

Archaeologists believe they have discovered the world's oldest-known representational artwork: three wild pigs painted deep in a limestone cave on the Indonesian island of Sulawesi at least 45,500 years ago.

What is the oldest statue ever found? ›

The Löwenmensch figurine and the Venus of Hohle Fels, both from Germany, are the oldest confirmed statuettes in the world, dating to 35,000-40,000 years ago. The oldest known life-sized statue is Urfa Man found in Turkey which is dated to around 9,000 BC.

What are the three styles of Japanese? ›

These three systems are called hiragana, katakana and kanji.

What are 3 characteristics of Japanese art? ›

Within its diverse body of expression, certain characteristic elements seem to be recurrent: adaptation of other cultures, respect for nature as a model, humanization of religious iconography, and appreciation for material as a vehicle of meaning.

What are the aesthetics of Japanese art? ›

Japanese aesthetics comprise a set of ancient ideals that include wabi (transient and stark beauty), sabi (the beauty of natural patina and aging), and yūgen (profound grace and subtlety). These ideals, and others, underpin much of Japanese cultural and aesthetic norms on what is considered tasteful or beautiful.

What is the Japanese style of painting? ›

Japanese-style or nihonga painting continues in a prewar fashion, updating traditional expressions while retaining their intrinsic character. Some artists within this style still paint on silk or paper with traditional colors and ink, while others used new materials, such as acrylics.

What are the 4 forms of Japanese? ›

The basic forms of Japanese verb are root form, nai form, ta form and nakatta form. We call these four forms "Plain Form". The plain form can be used instead of masu form in casual situations. Sentences that end with the plain form are less formal and each form refers to affirmative, negative and tense.

What are the 4 classes in Japanese? ›

The Neo-Confucian theory that dominated Japan during the Tokugawa Period recognized only four social classes—samurai warriors, artisans, farmers and merchants—and mobility between the four classes was officially prohibited.

Is kimono for male or female? ›

Today, Kimonos are most often worn by women, and on special occasions. A few older women and even fewer men still wear Kimonos on a daily basis. Compared to Western dresses, the kimono tends to limit one's movement.

What are the 3 faces of Japanese culture? ›

The first face, you show to the world. The second face, you show to your close friends and your family. The third face, you never show anyone.

What is an example of Japanese art? ›

Finally, The Great Wave off Kanagawa by Katsushika Hokusai is probably the most recognizable Japanese painting ever made. It's actually the most prominent piece of art “made in Japan”. It depicts an enormous wave threatening boats off the coast of the prefecture of Kanagawa.

What are 3 elements in Japanese culture? ›

In Japan, the five elements are known as 五大 (ごだい) or “godai” and include earth, water, fire, wind and void. These are Buddhist concepts, but you can find them in everyday life—from science to ourselves.

What are the 7 principles of aesthetics? ›

The article concentrates on the seven principles identified by Hisamatsu (1971) in his classic text Zen and the Fine Arts: kanso (simplicity); fukinsei (asymmetry); koko (austere sublimity); shizen (naturalness); daisuzoku (freedom from routine); sei-jaku (tranquillity); and yūgen (profound grace).

What is the oldest artistic tradition in the world? ›

The art of the Aborigines is often described as being the world´s oldest living tradition of art. Many of the designs used in contemporary Aboriginal art are derived from traditions, patterns and Dreamtime stories that can be traced back 50,000 years.


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