What is “Nihonga” ?

“Nihonga” is the traditional Japanese painting technique. It usually comparing with “Yohga”, the Western oil paintings, which came to Japan in Meiji Era. The paintings are planar but have original depth, as it were, ‘trans-dimensional’. This is the most impressive characteristic of Japanese style. It uses all natural materials and the process is very time consuming.


In the 8th century in Japan, the paintings using the technique and the style that came from China or Korean Peninsula were called “Karae”, and the paintings having Japanese original motives were called “Yamatoe”.
From ancient times, we have been looking on the ‘older’ one is ‘traditional’ comparing with the ‘newer’ one imported from the oversea countries.

In 1882, Ernest Francisco Fenollosa, the American philosopher who was hired by the Meiji government, used ‘Japanese Painting’ at his lecture and the term was translated in ‘Nihonga’.
He pointed out 5 characteristics of it;
1. No realism like photograph
2. No shadow
3. Having outlines
4. Pale colors
5. Simple expression

Strictly speaking, ‘Nihonga’ is the painting after Meiji Era, but generally we call so even if they were painted before the time.

Technique and Materials

They use ‘Iwaenogu’ made from mineral pigments being crushed into powder. According to the quality of ores, the tones are changed. The varieties bring out the unique taste.

For example;
Red = mercury sulfide / coral
Blue = azurite
Green = malachite
White = oyster shell
Black = carbon
Gold = gold powder

The colors are painted over and over again because they can only put on materials a little bit at a time.

And the other big point is that they paint on ‘Washi’, the Japanese traditional paper. The process of papermaking was imported from China in the early 7th century and afterwards it has been developed in its original way.
‘Washi’ is made from hemp, cotton, silk and so on. Especially, hemp is the best material in respect of durability and prevention from moth-eaten, so we can still enjoy the paintings of the Nara period, the 8th century. The fiber of a variety of mulberry trees and the hemp and the other grasses are mixed together with water and we enjoy the special warm taste of it.


Japanese painting artists

Yoko Arimoto
Koji Mizutani (japanese only)


about hirano kotoken contact us