Japanese art | Chicago Institute of the Arts


While well known for our exceptional and diverse collection of Japanese prints, the museum’s collections of Japanese art also include important works of Buddhist art, painted screens, ceramics, and kimonos. What becomes clear when one examines these various works, which range from ancient to contemporary, is that Japanese art is a living tradition. Discover these highlights of the collection.

Please note that some of these works may be removed from view periodically due to the sensitivity of their material. Every three months, a new exhibition of prints is presented in the galleries. Check out our website to see what’s currently showing.

Katsushika Hokusai

One of the most iconic images in the world, this print is not one of a kind. Katsushika Hokusai made the work as part of her very famous series Thirty-six views of Mount Fuji (Fugaku sanjûrokkei), which he started in 1830 at age 70. Thousands of copies have been made from the original woodcuts, and the three Art Institute copies are among the first to be created. Each iteration of the work is slightly different from the others – in fact, the original print had a pink sky, a feature that has faded in many copies. The Art Institute’s collection includes one of these rare pink sky versions. Although popularly known by its nickname “The Great Wave,” the real focus of the print is Mount Fuji, which looks small but steadfast beyond the wave, impervious to its threats. Learn more about this print on the museum’s blog and explore the Art Institute’s exceptional collection of works by Katsushika Hokusai.


This depiction of a fully decorated horse, with saddle, stirrups and bell ornaments on the front and back is a haniwa, a terracotta figure for ritual and funeral use. Found in Ibaragi Prefecture, northeast of Tokyo, this clay figurine likely stood at the front of a tumulus, in an area filled with a variety of figurines, as well as animal shapes, possibly be supposed to represent the goods that the deceased hoped to own. take with them after death. The shape of the horse is significant, as the horse breeds of the Asian continent proved to be effective militarily and quickly became symbols of wealth and power. Horses have also long been considered divine beings with special spiritual abilities.

This work is exhibited in Gallery 102.


Probably part of a group of sculptures produced by a studio at the same time, this sculpture represents the Shinto deity Hachiman, in particular Sōgyō Hachiman, or “Hachiman in the guise of a monk”. The cult dedicated to Hachiman originated in Usa, in northeast Kyushu, a site relatively close to the Korean Peninsula and also an important early Buddhist center. Buddhism had been introduced to Japan in the 6th century and monks have become one of the most recognizable symbols of its practice. Hachiman’s appearance reflects the amalgamation of Buddhist and indigenous Shinto beliefs into a shared iconography.

Tōshūsai Sharaku

During the ten-month period between summer 1794 and early spring 1795, approximately 150 woodblock prints designs were surprisingly, creatively and innovatively created by TōshÅ«sai Sharaku. This is one of Sharaku’s most famous creations: Kabuki actor Otani Oniji III playing the role of Edobei, an evil servant whose very appearance inspired fear. Sharaku was known for the expressive, almost cartoonish faces of his characters, and here the actor’s intense grimace, menacing crouch, and outstretched hands convey a sense of impending attack.

Kitagawa Utamaro

One of the most prolific Japanese print designers of the late 18th century and early 19th century, Kitagawa Utamaro was known for his images of beautiful women, primarily those of the city of Edo (now Tokyo) . This is one of many engravings in which Utamaro depicts a young woman against an elaborately patterned background. One of Utamaro’s specialties was to convey the transparency of certain objects, and in this work the delicate features of the subject’s face are highlighted by the transparent pale yellow comb she holds.

Onchi Kōshirō

Onchi Kōshirō was one of the major artists and main defenders of the mid-century sōsaku hanga, or creative impression, movement in Japan. The artists in this self-defined group proudly designed, sculpted and printed their own works. They did not believe that the traditional ukiyo-e method, in which the tasks of design, sculpting and printing were separated between specialists, allowed for true creative expression. Onchi produced very few prints of his compositions, and he only made three prints of this particular print. The intricate design – vivid orange charcoal imprints on a checkered background of prints taken from wooden blocks – required 22 printing steps.

Onchi Kōshirō’s work is featured in the exhibition Onchi Kōshirō: Affection for shapeless things. Learn more about the artist’s life and work in this blog post.


This furisode, a long-sleeved garment worn by children and single women on special occasions, belonged to a family whose coat of arms was the tachibana, the flower of tangerine. Made of rinzu (a soft and shiny silk), the garment was probably used as uchikake (outer coat). Red fabric is woven into a pattern that combines geometric and floral shapes, and a blossoming plum tree is embroidered with gold and white silk thread. This carefully embroidered tree. The realistic contours of the tree trunk are conveyed by needlework typical of the late Edo period – the edges of the trunk were first stuffed with thick thread, then on this stuffing, thread wrapped in gold was covered with red silk thread.

Ōmura Kōyō was a star of her generation. Born in Fukuyama, he graduated from Kyoto Municipal Painting School in 1914 and became a pupil of Takeuchi Seihō (1864-1942), a renowned master of Nihonga, or traditional Japanese painting. From 1912 until WWII, Ōmura regularly participated in major exhibitions in Japan. He also exhibited his work to admiring audiences in France, Germany and Italy, gaining rare international popularity for Japanese artists at the time. This pair of six-panel screens from Ōmura features a close-up view of a lush rainforest inhabited by a species of bird known as the grand argus. A pair on the right perches calmly, unlike the active male bird on the left, which is engaged in a mating dance and unfurls its patterned feathers on several panels. The entire artwork also features the bright red and orange blossoms of the royal poinciana flower. The artist observed this fauna during a trip to the Dutch East Indies (now Indonesia).


Commissioned and executed in the mid-14th century, this long horizontal scroll illustrates the founding of the YÅ«zÅ« Nembutsu sect of Japanese Buddhism. YÅ«zÅ« Nembutsu means “to sing [Amida’s] name in communion ”- a reference to the belief that chanting Buddha Amida’s name by one person would affect all other beings, whether to achieve individual rebirth or to allow souls in hell to be saved. A priest named Ryōnin (1072-1132) founded the sect in the Heian era (794-1185), and this scroll illustrates Ryōnin’s life. Unrolled from right to left, the scroll would have been studied in successive sections each approximately the width of the spectator’s shoulders. In this scene, Ryōnin is depicted as a recluse in ÅŒhara, north of Kyoto, where he spent 24 years in prayer and meditation as his fame as a holy man spread. An accompanying scroll in the collection of the Cleveland Museum of Art illustrates the miracles that resulted from the chanting of Amida’s name.

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