Traveling to Japan means that you’ll be immersing yourself in a world of a wonderfully distinct culture, deep-rooted traditions amongst ultra-modern advances, and surprisingly strong artistic representation.
What people don’t realize at first is that Japan is home to quite a number of globally renowned artists, and these artists have made grand contributions to the world of art.
From Hokusai’s Great Wave being printed on t-shirts all around the world to Yayoi Kusama’s global installations being featured all over Instagram, these artists are on another level.
Japanese artists and their works are almost always recognizable. They are often a distinctive reflection of Japanese history and culture with a modern flair. Most famous Japanese artists prefer painting as a creative medium, however, are there many Japanese architects and animators who have left their mark on the world as well.
If you’re keen to learn more, we’ve listed 30 famous Japanese artists below so you can discover their amazing artworks.
1. Katsushika Hokusai (1760 – 1849)
Often referred to simply as ‘Hokusai’, this famous artist is considered to be the most influential ukiyo-e painter of all time. His works ‘Thirty-six views of Mt Fuji’ and ‘The Great Wave of Kanagawa’ have been featured in countless galleries and merchandise across the world.
‘The Great Wave of Kanagawa’ was and remains so popular that it was referenced by many other artists including Gary Larson (an American cartoonist), and it also became an emoji in 2010.
Famous works: The Great Wave of Kanagawa; Thirty-six views of Mt. Fuji
2. Yayoi Kusama
Yayoi Kusama is instantly recognizable by her fiery hair color. She is a contemporary Japanese artist who works in a variety of mediums, including sculpting, painting, fashion, and performance.
Since the 1970s, she has been working on creative and memorable art installations around the world. Her most memorable and popular one would have to be her Infinity Mirror Rooms. Using mirrors, she transforms her earlier artworks into a perpetual experience for visitors.
Famous works: Infinity Room | Fireflies on the Water; Pumpkin, Dots Obsession
3. Chiharu Shiota
Chiharu Shiota is famous for her distinct exhibitions of rooms adorned with strings that replicate webs. Her method of art is to create abstract installations featuring everyday objects.
Her work is said to be emotionally charged, as she reaches deep within her personal life and experiences to express her thoughts and emotions through her art. She has surmised that she understands how life and death are closely connected and so uses the fragility of life to make her work human.
Famous works: The Key in the Hand; Belonging; No Title 2
4. Chiho Aoshima
Chiho Aoshima is a contemporary artist of our time, who specializes in Abode Photoshop art. She also dabbles in sculpturing and hand-painted pieces.
She takes influence from yokai spirits, nature, technology, and modern society and the future. Her blend of linear aesthetics of ukiyo-e art and Japanese pop culture makes her work popular amongst the young and the old.
Famous works: City Glow; Palm Trees, from Building Head
5. Hasegawa Tohaku (1539-1610)
Hasegawa Tohaku was a graduate of the Kano school and was officially a professional painter at the age of 20. He later developed his distinct style of painting and is credited for bringing to life the Hasegawa school of Japanese painting. This school is known for its works of painting sliding doors.
Hasegawa’s work is characterized by his combination of bright and colorful detailed pieces which have a central theme: nature.
Famous work: Pine Trees
6. Takashi Murakami
Takashi Murakami is one of our favourite Japanese artists!
He is credited as being the father of the Superflat art movement, a blend of high-level art with low-level vibes meshing Japanese consumer culture. His incredibly distinct colourful artworks are influenced by anime and manga.
Takashi Murakami shot to global recognition when he became a long-standing collaborator with luxury brand Louis Vuitton. Since then, he worked with many other popular brands and stars, including Issey Miyake, Kanye West, and Pharrell Williams.
Famous works: Smooth Nightmare; Tan Tan Bo
7. Kuroda Seiki (1866 – 1924)
Kuroda Seiki is a famous Japanese artist who reformed Western-style painting in Japan during the Meiji period. In particular, he introduced the artistic concept of ‘outdoor light’ which was never used before in Japan. He also encouraged the use of the western-style framework of producing art, including methods of studying painting and selecting themes.
Whilst Kuroda painted a range of things, he commonly took inspiration from women at work.
Famous works: Wisdom, Impression, Sentiment; Tale of Ancient Romance
8. Mariko Mori
Mariko Mori’s creativity is expressed across mediums such as photography, video, installations, and sculptures. She often draws upon the themes of the future, technology, life, and death.
Common characters in her work include futuristic geishas and cyborgs, and Manga-influenced characters, and within these characters, Mariko often portrays herself as the protagonist.
In the mid-90s religious references became more evident and central in her artwork. She felt that, rather than distinct cultural or location-based experiences, religion was universal, and tied in with her wanting to showcase the interconnectedness of everything.
Famous works: Birth of a Star; Empty Dream; Dream Temple
Read More: The 10 Best Free Museums In Tokyo
9. Kitagawa Utamaro (1753 – 1806)
Kitagawa was a successor of Hokusai who was also known for his brilliant ukiyo-e artworks. He specifically worked on woodblock prints and paintings, with a focus on ‘bijin okubi-e’ – the heads of beautiful women.
His work didn’t just stop at ukiyo-e artworks; he was also an accomplished book illustrator and perpetually studied nature.
Famous works: Ten Studies in Female Physiognomy, A Collection of Reigning Beauties
10. Kano Eitoku (1543 – 1590)
Kano Eitoku was born into a family of renowned artists and was particularly heavily influenced by his artist grandfather, Kano Motonobu. He became a prominent member of the Kano school and was the first artist ever to use a gold-leaf background for large paintings. He would often apply bright colors and heavy black ink to this gold-leaf painting to accentuate his art.
He often took inspiration from nature, including birds, animals, trees, flowers, and rocks. His art often took on seemingly everyday, mundane objects such as those mentioned and added intricate detailing to make them look beautiful.
Famous works: Painting of a Cypress
11. Yoshimoto Nara
Yoshimoto Nara is a contemporary artist whose works have been featured globally. He focuses on painting and sculpting and is one of the few Japanese artists to have studied abroad. Many of his artworks feature young children displaying emotional complexity beyond their years.
He credits his artwork to influences such as pop music, his childhood memories, current affairs, and the emotions that each theme invokes in him.
Famous works: Knife Behind Back, Sorry, couldn’t draw left eye!, Sprout the Ambassador
12. Tensho Shubun
Tensho Shubun was a Zen Buddhist priest who was heavily influenced by the Middle Kingdom of China, with its art, culture, and history. He used it as inspiration to fuse the differences with Japan in his art. He famously practiced suiboku ink painting, a painting style that uses monochrome ink, and became one of the style’s main advocates.
Famous works: Reading in a Bamboo Grove, Hue of the Water, Light on the Peaks
13. Tomioka Tessai (1837 – 1924)
Tomioka Tessai was a famous Japanese artist who stuck to the Nihonga style (Japanese artistic technique) until the very end. This is especially prominent because, during his prime time, many other Japanese artists were heavily influenced by Western styles.
Tomioka’s paintings were all somewhat based on classical Japanese and Chinese literature as well as legends in history. He was known for his vibrant colors, bold strokes, and large-scale compositions.
Famous works: Abe-no-Nakamaro Writing Nostalgic Poem While Moon-viewing, Two Divinities Dancing, Tomioka Tessai Encountering with Immortal Women
14. Ogata Korin (1658 – 1716)
Ogata Korin is known for breaking out of the mold of conventional Japanese painting. In particular, he worked on screen paintings, lacquer work, and textile designs. He quickly developed his style of flat decorative design and abstract colors.
He studied nature and many of his artworks were heavily influenced by items such as flowers, grass, the seasons, and water.
Famous works: Red and White Plum Blossoms
15. Tawaraya Sotatsu (1570 – 1643)
Tawaraya Sotatsu was one of the co-founders of the Rimpa School of Japanese Painting. He pioneered the method of tarashikomi, where one would drop color onto another before the first color dries. He was also famous for his monochrome paintings in which black ink was used as though it were different colors.
Famous works: Six-fold screens depicting episodes from The Tale of Genji, Water fowl in the lotus pond
16. Sesshu Toyo (1420 – 1506
Sesshu Toyo was a famous painting whose style was heavily influenced by the Chinese Song Dynasty. However, he injected his flair and used greater variations in light and shadow, thicker lines, and a flatter painting effect. It’s said that many artists after him were influenced by his style.
One of his finest works is Anthology with Cranes, a collaboration with calligrapher Hon’ami Koetsu. His decorative skills as an artist are on full display in this piece of art.
Famous works: Sansui Chokan, Landscapes of the Four Seasons, View of Ama-no-Hashidate
17. Yasumasa Morimura
Yasumasa Morimura is famous for being an artist that ‘appropriated’ rather than produced his unique artwork. He often used existing historical artworks and added his flair whilst keeping the original recognizable.
He also famously transformed himself into the protagonist that he is trying to portray in his art through make-up, costumes, and prosthetics.
Famous works: An Inner Dialogue with Frida Kahlo
18. Hayao Miyazaki
Hayao Miyazaki is probably the most famous Japanese artist of this list!
He is synonymous with Studio Ghibli, one of the most famous animation studios in the entire world. Hayao serves as the co-founder as well as lead animator, director, producer, and screenwriter. His artistic style is humanistic to appeal to the inner child in all of us, with constant themes such as coming of age, diversity, and nature.
Famous works: Spirited Away, Princess Mononoke, My Neighbour Totoro
Read More: Best Japanese Movie Directors
19. Yoko Ono
More than just a Beatle band member’s wife, Yoko Ono was an amazing artist and passionate activist. She is defined as a conceptual artist, drawing on themes beyond her generation that constantly go against the norm, such as switching gender roles.
Her art is not always well-received or understood by the public, and she knows this but she continually defies social norms. For example, during one of her past shows, she asked the audience to cut off pieces of her clothing whilst she sat in one place.
Famous works: Ceiling Painting/Yes Painting; My Mommy is Beautiful
20. Hiroshi Sugimoto
Hiroshi Sugimoto is a Japanese abstract photographer and architect. His preferred method of creating includes experimenting with long-exposure photography and different light forms and situations. His concept is ‘exploring memory and time’; he looks at exposing the conflict and connectedness between life and death.
Hiroshi received countless requests to design structures for anything from restaurants to art museums. He doesn’t have an official architect license himself, so he opened up his firm and hired three architects to work with him to execute his vision.
Famous works: Constructing Worlds; Faraday Cage
21. Osamu Tezuka (1928 – 1989)
Osamu Tezuka is accredited for fusing the blend of anime and manga that we all know and love today. His most famous work is his Astro Boy series, but his others work shouldn’t be overshadowed. He has created more than 700 other manga comics and has drawn over 150,000 pages in his lifetime.
Tezuka is often referred to as the ‘Father of Manga’ and the ‘Walt Disney of Japan’. With his signature black beret and thick-rimmed glasses, he is considered a legend amongst modern Japanese artists.
Famous works: Astro Boy; Phoenix
Read More: Most Popular Japanese Historical Figures
22. Nobuyoshi Araki
Nobuyoshi Araki is one of the most well-known yet controversial Japanese photographers. His artworks ranged from ordinary and diary-entry style to intimate and erotic.
He photographs objects such as clouds, flowers, cityscapes, and ordinary people as well as Japanese women in compromising positions. He produced over 500 photobooks before he turned 82.
Famous works: Sacchin
23. Utagawa Kuniyoshi (1798 – 1861)
Utagawa Kuniyoshi is famous for his distinct take on ukiyo-e. Rather than keeping his artwork light and whimsical like many other artists of his time, Utagawa Kuniyoshi preferred to portray darkness and evil.
His subjects ranged from landscapes, courtesans, Kabuki actors, cats, and legendary characters, whilst common themes included demons and ghosts, gore, and violence.
Famous works: Takiyasha the Witch and the Skeleton Spectre; Hatsuhana
24. Mika Ninagawa
Mika Ningawa is a famous Japanese photographer and filmmaker who has a passion for bright, bold colors. She is one of the most talked-about Japanese artists, having recorded the highest turnout for a photography exhibition in the history of Japan.
Some of her most recognizable art include close-up photos of highly saturated goldfish and prismatic shots of flowers. There is a flowing sense of femininity and natural beauty in her artwork.
Famous works: Liquid Dreams; Pink Rose Suite
25. Nahoko Kojima
Nahoko Kojima expresses her creativity through the method of ‘kirie’, the art of paper cutting. This is a distinct style of art that takes precision and detail-orientation, and one that Nahoko Kojima has completely reinvented.
She is internationally renowned for her colossal handmade art sculptures that somehow emit a sense of fragility through their paper form. Some lay on the ground, whilst others float high in the ceiling. Her amazing technique has earned her top spots at museums and art galleries around the world.
Famous works: Kiku Flowers; Alice; Chandelier; The Cloud Leopard
26. Hiroshi Senju
Hiroshi Senju is a modern Nihonga painter who exclusively features waterfalls in his artworks. His work is described as combining a ‘minimal visual language rooted in Abstract Expressionism’ with notes of traditional Japanese painting.
He produces larger-scale works to appeal to our visual sense and invoke the emotions of experiencing a waterfall.
Famous works: Waterfall; Cliff
27. Kawase Hasui
Kawase Hasui was a famous artist known for his woodblock ukiyo-e prints. He was one of the most prominent designers during the shin-hanga movement, where traditional subjects were designed with a Western influence.
His artwork was a reflection of his love for soft breezes. His creations often invoke a nostalgic emotion and are said to be soothing to look at.
Famous works: Twelve Scenes of Tokyo; Selected Views of Japan; Souvenirs of Travel; Snow at Zojo Temple
28. Yokoyama Taikan (1868 – 1958)
Yokoyama Taikan was one of the founders of Nihonga, a traditional painting method that removes the use of heavy line drawing and instead introduces blurred and softened images.
This method was originally heavily criticized by traditional painters, but Yokoyama remained faithful to this abstract style. He later turned to paint exclusively with monochrome ink. He went on to dedicate his life to continue innovating the Nihonga practice for future generations.
Famous works: Mt. Fuji; Way to Atago; Selflessness
29. Aya Takano
Aya Takano is a contemporary artist who specializes in painting, illustrating, and manga. Aya, along with Chiho Aoshima, are both artists involved in Takashi Murakami’s Kaikai Kiki, an artistic production studio.
She takes inspiration from a wide range of art forms and other artists, including Osamu Tezuka and Gustav Klimpt. The infamous tsunami of 2011 in Japan emotionally affected Aya and deeply influenced her work moving forward.
Aya prefers oil painting, which is more natural, to acrylic painting and has a specific interest in science, nature, and human life, all conveyed through her work in mythological, relatively disturbing, and abstract manners.
Famous works: Future Daily Morning Routine, Fallin’-Manma-Air
30. Kawanabe Kyosai (1831 – 1889)
Kawanabe Kyosai was a renowned Japanese artist of his time; but more than that, he was a larger-than-life personality who has no boundaries when it came to inspirations and art forms. During the Meiji Restoration period of 1868, he became a popular caricaturist who often expressed his own opinions through his drawings.
As a kid, he, unfortunately, discovered a corpse in a river, and it’s believed that this somehow influenced the dark elements in his artworks. It is believed that he was fond of sake and often did his best work under the influence.
Famous works: Animal Circus; Skeleton Shamisen Player in Top Hat With Dancing Monster
Here you have it, our list of 30 famous Japanese artists!
Japanese art is as varied as it is disciplined, as influenced by history as it is by the future, and there is no limit to the mediums and forms that it can take.
As you can tell from this list, very few can rival the talent and influence of Japanese artists.
Which artist are you excited about exploring? Let us know in the comments below!