Japanese Art

美術 – Bijutsu: (fine) Art

Where to find the most beautiful pieces of Japanese art in Belgium and around?

Japanese Art Museums/Galleries

Japanese Antique


Japanese art: a brief summary in historical perspective

Yomon period (7500 BC – 250 BC)


Decorated pottery (vases with marks of cords) and clay figurines called Dogu.

Yayoi period (300 BC – 300)

Start of manufacture of copper weapons, bronze bells (Dotaku) and wheel thrown ceramics.


Kofun period (300 – 710)

Megalithic thombs with small artifacts and sculptures called Haniwa.

Buddhism came in Japan from Korea and had a big influence on Japanese art (especially sculpture and architecture) at that time. Also the Chinese characters (Kanji) were imported and Japan started do develop their own writing system (Hiragana and Katakana).

Taika (Hakuho) period (645 – 710)

Buddhism stays a source of inspiration for artists. Religious sculptures became important. Most of the statues at those times were wooden sculptures. A lot of buddhist temples were build and decorated with wooden pieces and paintings (scrolls with religious content).

Nara period (Tenpyo) (710 – 794)

Buddhism is still expanding. It is in this period that the Kojiki and Nihon Shoki were finished. Also the buddha sculpture of the Todaji was erected.

Heian period (794 – 1185)

Due to the attention for fine arts at the imperial court; arts like poetry and calligraphy became popular in higher circles. Japanese women wrote in Japanese Hiragana, not with the Chinese Kanji. It is in this period that two ladies in waiting, Sei Shonagon and Murasaki Shikibu, wrote their masterpieces: The Pillowbook (Makura no Soshi) and The Tale of Genji (Genji Monogatari).

Genji Monogatari

In the last century of the Heian period, the e-maki came to the fore. E-maki’s are horizontal illustrated handscrolls. A famous e-maki shows the above mentioned Genji Monogatari.

Kamakura period (1185 – 1333)

Buddhism and Samurai warriors dominated the Shogunate culture of the Kamakura period. Artwork consisted for the biggest part of religious paintings, wooden sculptures of religious entities, and military metal objects (e.g. armor and swords).

Muromachi (Ashikaga) period (1333 – 1573)

In this period, Zen Buddhism gained popularity. Besides calligraphy, other ceremonial arts were developed: tea ceremony (Cha-do), Ikebana and garden architecture. Zen-gardens took root with the Karesansui of the Ryoan-ji temple in Kyoto as an exponent. Also this period is characterized by the rise of Noh and Kyogen theatre.

Karesansui – Ryoanji

Azuchi Momoyama period (1573 – 1603)

The so called ‘golden century’. Not only because of the high quality of the paintings made at that time, but also literally because of the use of gold foil. Also in this period, paintings on sliding doors enclosing a room became very monumental.

Edo period (Tokugawa) (1603 – 1868)

The most popular ancient Japanese art forms in the West might be the Japanese art from this era. First of all in this period there is the wide range of woodblock prints (“Ukiyo-e”) from the Utagawa school. Initialy they showed Kabuki (a theater form that arises during this period) scenes, later on the so called ‘Floating world’ became the inspiration of Ukiyo-e artists. In particular the woodblock prints from Hokusai and Hiroshige became a popular source of inspiration for famous painters in the West. Next to that there are the porcelain ceramics (“Early Imari”) and lots of small art pieces as “Okimono” (small figurines) and “Netsuke”, initially made for the last generations of samurai…

The big wave of Kanagawa – Hokusai

Meiji period (prewar period) (1868 – 1945)

Since Japan opened its borders for the West in this period, a lot of Western influences determined the Japanese art at that time. This stands out most clearly in architecture and paintings. Tokyo Station is a perfect example of a building built in Giyofu architecture (Western style with Japanese techniques). The teaching of Western methods in painting (Youga) started with the opening of the Technological Art School in 1876 and became the artistic counterpart of Nihonga (Japanese style painting).

Mr Kume – Kuroda Seiki

Modern times (postwar period) (1945 – now)

The postwar period is characterized by new architecture and of course the rise of the decorative arts (next to the fine arts). Manga and anime are the most known examples but Japan also grows in the art fields of graphic design, video games and concept art. New forms of sculpture and new artistic movements develop in modern Japan: “Kirie” (Nahoko Kojima) and “Superflat” (Takashi Murakami) are some famous examples.