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Nihonga Collage

Started: 1882

"The more I stare at nature, the more I move away from aspects such as form and am overcome by a strange inspiration."

Tsuchida Bakusen

Summary of Nihonga

Nihonga developed as an art movement in direct response to the transformation of Japanese society during the Meiji Period. As Japan opened its trade borders for the first time in over two centuries, a push toward modernity occurred in all sectors of the country's society. Nihonga artists, though, felt the need to preserve the heritage of classical Japanese painting and techniques resulting in a reinvigoration of the form that paid homage to the past while updating it for the newly sophisticated times of global exposure and artistic influence.

Key Ideas

While based on Japanese painting traditions over a thousand years old, the term Nihonga was coined to differentiate such works from Western style paintings, or Yōga, which had simultaneously risen as a major art movement.
The motivation for adopting a more modern Japanese style was largely spurred by artists and educators who wanted to combat Japan's adoption of Western artistic styles and techniques by emphasizing the importance and beauty of native Japanese traditional arts.
Not merely extending the older Japanese painting traditions into a modern idiom, Nihonga artists also broadened the range of subjects portrayed, and used stylistic and technical elements from a wide range of traditional schools so that the lines of distinction were minimized and Nihonga became a wide and all-encompassing umbrella for classic Japanese art.
Despite early resistance, Nihonga artists eventually incorporated elements of Western influence like naturalism and perspective into their work while remaining true to the ideals of historical Japanese art, materials, and techniques.
Throughout its history, Japanese art has been marked by artistic periods dominated by foreign influence followed by periods that emphasized only the Japanese style of painting. This pendulum in artistic influences reflects Japanese society's overall approach to the outside world, yet Nihonga remains a dominant and highly regarded art movement that continues to this day.
Nihonga Image


Japanese painting emerged in the mid-seventh century during the Nara Period (710-794). It was largely influenced by the arrival of Chinese sumi ink painting and inspired by work of the Tang dynasty. In the subsequent Heian Period, yamato-e, or Japanese style painting, developed in emaki-mono, or works on long hand scrolls. This became known as the classic Japanese style. The most famous example was the Genji Monogatari Emaki (c. 1130), which portrayed scenes from the first novel ever written, a classic of Japanese culture called Tale of the Genji (before 1021).

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