Art of Japan

The art of Japan is a diverse blend of ancient traditions and modern, global influences. It includes everything from calligraphy performed on huge canvases to graffiti art drawn on small paper toys, and more.

About Japanese Art

Art in Japan began around 14,000 B.C.E., with the Jōmon people, nomads who wandered from place to place in search of food. Their art included clay pottery decorated with plaited patterns, and clay figurines called dogu, which may have been associated with magic and religious rituals.

Throughout its history, Japan has produced many types of art. Buddhist sculpture and temples began to flourish during the Suiko period of Japanese history in the 6th century, which was marked by new ideas from China and Korea.

Emakimono, or horizontal, illustrated scrolls depicting events of the royal courts, battles, and supernatural themes, flourished between the 11th and 16th centuries. Other Japanese arts include painting, calligraphy, flower arranging, and pottery.

Traditional Japanese art has distinct aesthetic attributes, or artistic qualities, many of which come from Buddhist beliefs. Japanese aesthetics include veneration for nature as a living being; wabi-sabi, an appreciation of imperfection and incompleteness; and yūgen, a sense of the deep and mysterious.

Paper Toy Live – Shin Tanaka

Discover the art of paper toys with Shin Tanaka, a graffiti writer and designer. Tanaka creates paper toy models as surfaces for his graffiti work. His paper toys (including T-BOY, BOXY, and SPIKY BABY) are known and collected around the world. His paper toys can be downloaded from his Web site, so anyone can design their own unique creation.

Tanaka also creates custom sneakers and life-sized paper sneaker models, and has collaborated, or worked with, brands such as Adidas and Nike. Tanaka's work is part of the global designer toy movement, which produces collectible works of toy-based art, often in limited editions.

Designer toys can be made from vinyl, cloth, paper and other materials. Popular designer toy shapes, or platforms, include the Qee by Toy2R and the Munny by Kidrobot. These toys have been customized by hundreds of artists around the world.

Shin Tanaka JacketShin Tanaka's "Mask Hoody" has been customized by other designers.

Trancework – Koji Kakinuma

Trancework - Koji KakinumaKakinuma's work requires great physical strength, earning him the nickname "The Warrior Artist."

Koji Kakinuma practices the art of calligraphy, or beautiful handwriting. He began studying traditional Japanese monochrome, or single-color brushstroke when he was only five. Over the course of his career, he has transformed calligraphy into "hypercalligraphy,"—creating large paintings as dynamic live performances. 

A key part of Kakinuma's art is his concept of the Eternal Now, an artistic "sensibility that permits no uncertainty and no hesitation, and allows no regret and no revision." The Eternal Now emerges through the union of Japanese tradition and unrestrained artistic expression, connecting the artist to the spiritual and psychic energy at the moment of performance.

In Trancework, watch how Kakinuma paints countless repetitions of a simple, powerful phrase as he falls into a deep trance-like state. How does this performance relate to his ideas of the Eternal Now?

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See Koji Kakinuma in action (and learn more about Japanese calligraphy, too.)

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Buddhism (BOO-di-zum): A religion stemming from the teachings of Siddhartha Gautama, otherwise known as the Buddha, or "awakened one." Buddhism emerged in India the 5th century B.C.E., and spread to Japan by way of Korea and China. Key beliefs of Buddhism include awakening to the true nature of reality and escaping from the worldly cycle of suffering

Calligraphy (kah-LIH-gruh-fee): literally "beautiful handwriting," the art of giving expressive meaning to written characters.

Designer Toys: Vinyl, cloth, wood, or paper collectible toys, produced in limited editions and customized by graffiti artists and other designers.

Dogu (DOE-goo): Clay figurines of the Jōmon period, thought to have been used in magic and religious rituals.

Emakimono (eh-mah-ki-MOE-no): Horizontal narrative scrolls depicting the royal courts, religious rituals, battles, and supernatural events. Popular between the 11th and 16th centuries.

Jōmon (JOE-mohn): The earliest inhabitants of the Japanese islands, this nomadic hunter-gatherer society was active from 14,000 B.C.E. to 400 B.C.E. Their artistic culture included clay pottery and the use of stone tools.

Wabi-sabi (WAH-bee SAH-bee): In Japanese arts, an appreciation of imperfection and incompleteness.

Yūgen (YOO-gen): a sense of the deep and mysterious.

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