Ancient Japanese Art

Art in Japan can be traced back to the tenth century B.C. The earliest peoples to settle on the Japanese islands created art in various forms. Japanese art has been heavily influenced over the centuries by war; invaders introduced new artistic techniques and styles. Historically, the Japanese also borrowed heavily from the Chinese. However, as Japanese art evolved, it developed its own styles and traditions. Japanese art covers a broad spectrum with mediums and types that include painting, origami, wood-block prints, literature, pottery, sculpture, calligraphy, architecture, and manga.

The earliest Japanese people created statuettes and pottery vessels. By 350 B.C., new immigrants had arrived bringing their knowledge of wheel-thrown and kiln-fired ceramics. Today, Japanese pottery is among the world’s finest. The introduction of Buddhism to the islands of Japan brought with it new art forms that the Japanese refined such as bronze casting. The Japanese also constructed singular works of architecture; some of the nation’s oldest Buddhist temples, for example, still exist.

Though elaborate and stylized forms of architecture are a cornerstone of Japanese art, painting was also important to the Japanese since the late Heian period around the year 1000 A.D. Artists painted hand scrolls and panels to reflect stories such as the Tale of Genji.  Painting styles often changed as ruling groups changed. Like the Chinese, many Japanese paintings also reflect calligraphy as part of the design. Landscapes, portraits, and scenes of life are traditional subjects associated with Japanese painting.

The Japanese also have rich tradition of performance art. Music, theatre, and dance are integral parts of the Japanese art world. Many old forms of these performance art styles have survived to the present. For instance Kabuki Theatre is still a celebrated art form that attracts visitors worldwide to Japan. Folk dances and traditional music is also performed throughout the country. Drums, gongs, flutes, and stringed instruments are hallmarks of traditional Japanese music.

While various periods of Japanese history are famous for their particular art styles and contributions to the development of Japanese art and aesthetics, the Edo period is particularly well known for its Ukiyo-e wood-block prints and art of the Pleasure Quarters of Kyoto that celebrated the courtesans of the “floating world.” Many of these works are housed in the finest museums around the world as well as in Japan.

Many of Japan’s most ancient surviving works that include painting, lacquerware, ceramics, pottery, sculpture, and other art forms can be viewed as such historic museum’s as the nation’s Nara Museum, the Tokyo national Museum, and the Kyoto National Museum.