15 Best Japanese Paintings (Ukiyo-E) That Will Blow Your Mind!

Best Japanese Paintings

In this article, we are going to present fifteen of the best Japanese paintings that will blow your mind! Let’s take a look at these great pieces of art along with their artists. 

The Great Wave off Kanagawa by Katsushika Hokusai

The Great Wave off Kanagawa by Katsushika Hokusai

The most famous woodblock print painting in the world, and one of the most famous paintings, “The Great Wave Off Kanagawa” has been a big influence on almost every artist. Even Vincent Van Gogh and Monet were influenced a lot by this painting and the artist, Katsushika Hokusai. 

This is one of the many print paintings Hokusai made to show the beautiful and magnificent Mount Fuji from different locations. Take a look at this article for a detailed understanding of this painting. 

Yamanba and Kintaro Sakazuki series by Utamaro 

This print painting depicts a scene from a very famous Japanese folklore story of Kintarō, also called “The Golden Boy.” Kintarō is a child with superhuman strengths. The boy was raised by a beautiful young witch on Mount Ashigara. The boy is gentle, loving, and helpful and for that, he gets the love and admiration of all the creatures of the forest. 

The print painting here shows the boy drinking milk from the yama-uba (mountain witch). There are hundreds of different variations of Kintarō by various artists. 

Inaba Mountain Moon from One Hundred Aspects of the Moon by Tsukioka Yoshitoshi

Inaba Mountain Moon from One Hundred Aspects of the Moon by Tsukioka Yoshitoshi

“Inaba Mountain Moon” is a part of a 100-print painting series by Tsukioka Yoshitoshi and you need to look at all the print paintings in this series because all of them are magnificent. The scenes depicted in these paintings are breathtaking. Take a look at all the 100 paintings here.

Apart from the fantastic scenes, the artist has carefully created the subjects with utmost detail. Every single print in this series looks like a still from a movie. All these prints have the moon in the background, something similar to what Hokusai did with Mount Fuji. 

“Inaba Mountain Moon” is the seventh painting in the series. It depicts a scene from the historic Siege of the Inabayama Castle in 1567. 

Tako to Ama (The Dream of the Fisherman’s Wife) by Hokusai

Tako to Ama (The Dream of the Fisherman’s Wife) by Hokusai

“Tako to Ama” or “The Dream of the Fisherman’s Wife” is certainly the most scandalous print painting in this list, and perhaps the entire world. While this painting might be controversial today, back when it was created during the Edo period, paintings like these were common in Japan. 

Okay, so if you think this painting is weird, take a look at what the text says. 

Tako to ama, an erotic ukiyo-e by the Japanese artist Hokusai. Translation by James Heaton and Toyoshima Mizuho, ‘Erotic Expression in Shunga‘, Kyoto Journal 18, 1991:

LARGE OCTOPUS: My wish comes true at last, this day of days; finally I have you in my grasp! Your “bobo” is ripe and full, how wonderful! Superior to all others! To suck and suck and suck some more. After we do it masterfully, I’ll guide you to the Dragon Palace of the Sea God and envelop you. “Zuu sufu sufu chyu chyu chyu tsu zuu fufufuuu…”

MAIDEN: You hateful octopus! Your sucking at the mouth of my womb makes me gasp for breath! Aah! yes… it’s…there!!! With the sucker, the sucker!! Inside, squiggle, squiggle, oooh! Oooh, good, oooh good! There, there! Theeeeere! Goood! Whew! Aah! Good, good, aaaaaaaaaah! Not yet! Until now it was I that men called an octopus! An octopus! Ooh! Whew! How are you able…!? Ooh! “yoyoyooh, saa… hicha hicha gucha gucha, yuchyuu chyu guzu guzu suu suuu….”

LARGE OCTOPUS: All eight limbs to intertwine with!! How do you like it this way? Ah, look! The inside has swollen, moistened by the warm waters of lust. “Nura nura doku doku doku…”

MAIDEN: Yes, it tingles now; soon there will be no sensation at all left in my hips. Ooooooh! Boundaries and borders gone! I’ve vanished….!!!!!!

SMALL OCTOPUS: After daddy finishes, I too want to rub and rub my suckers at the ridge of your furry place until you disappear and then I’ll suck some more. “chyu chyu..”“

The Sea at Satta in Suruga Province by Uttagawa Hiroshige

The Sea at Satta in Suruga Province by Uttagawa Hiroshige

People who are seeing this print painting for the first time might get confused with another very similar (and much more famous) painting, “The Great Wave Off Kanagawa” mentioned in this article. This print painting is actually made by another artist. 

While the waves and Mount Fuji are the same here, it was a common practice back then to make prints of these landscapes, and waves rising high with Mount Fuji in the background is a scene any artist would love to capture in print. 

Sumidagawa Bairyu Shinsho by Utagawa Kunisada. Best Japanese paintings

Sumidagawa Bairyu Shinsho by Utagawa Kunisada 

“Sumidagawa Bairyu Shinsho” is included in this list for its sheer beauty and elegance. The print painting’s subject is not the woman standing but the river bank and the environment around her. But the addition of the woman in her block Kimono makes the painting look even better. 

The balance of colors was the trademark of Ukiyo-e prints. The soothing blue background, the white flowers from the top, and the woman in black standing in the middle work so well together to create visual harmony. 

The water Vendor by Suzuki Harunobu 

The water Vendor by Suzuki Harunobu 

“The Water Vendor” by Suzuki Harunobu is a simple and clean print painting that depicts a very simple scene, focusing on the face of the subject as well as his surroundings with nothing in the background. What makes this painting so unique is the pink background. 

Suzuki had a strong grasp of colors. He pioneered the use of strong colors in these woodblock prints that were mostly filled with light colors. 

Sakata Kaido-maru Wrestles with a Giant Carp by Utagawa Kuniyosh. Best Japanese paintings

Sakata Kaido-maru Wrestles with a Giant Carp by Utagawa Kuniyosh

The child prodigy and superhuman making another appearance, “Sakato Kaudo-maru” is another name for the wonderful “Golden Boy” Kintarō. While the first painting showed a cute version of the child, in this painting we get to see how strong this baby is.

Kintarō is wrestling a giant carp and while the carp is trying to escape, you can see that there is no way the boy is letting it go. 

Dawn at Futamigaura by Utagawa Kunisada. Best Japanese paintings

Dawn at Futamigaura by Utagawa Kunisada

“Dawn at Futamigaura ” is a beautiful rendition of sunrise in the coastal town of Futamigaura. A print painting of sunrise from the land of the sun is bound to be beautiful. Notice how the artist has played with the colors and structure of the sun’s rays. The rays start with red and gradually get white. You can see the reflection of the sun’s rays on the water as well. 

Tiger by Utagawa Kuniyoshi 

Tiger by Utagawa Kuniyoshi 

What makes this print painting so brilliant is the balance of the colors. Despite the print being filled with so many vibrant colors of red, yellow, orange, and blue, the artist has masterfully balanced the subject so that everything feels stable. 

The print shows a Shogun fighting with a tiger, both of them are fierce in their appearance and strength. Both are looking magnificent in this battle of strength. 

At first glance, he looks very fierce, but he is actually a kind person by Utagawa Kuniyoshi. Best Japanese paintings

At first glance, he looks very fierce, but he is actually a kind person by Utagawa Kuniyoshi

If you thought that the painting was weird, we are sure you were surprised to look at the name of the painting as well. Utagawa Kuniyoshi made many humorous, satirical prints and this is one of them. The print works this way; you look at the painting at first and notice something is off. His face looks monstrous and hideous. 

But with careful examination of the face, you realize that the face is not that monstrous. Only after you stare at the face for a few seconds, the face starts looking more like a normal human’s face. The artist has used the image of naked men in different postures to create the shape of his face. And he is a kind person. 

Woman in Blue Combing Her Hair, Best Japanese paintings

Hair Combing Woman by Goyō Hashiguchi 

The print painting “Hair Combing Woman” speaks for itself; it is an elegant print that balances all the elements so perfectly. Notice how the artist uses the canvas as the color of the woman’s skin? Goyō was inspired a lot by the Western art form and you can see the influence in this painting as well. 

The perfect balance of color and the negative space (without any color) makes the painting soothing. But the highlight of this artwork is the hair of the woman. Look at the detail of her hair. The artist has put a lot of effort into making the hair look realistic (the European influence shown here). This print was made in 1920. 

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