In the Heian period (平安時代; 794 – 1185, Heian jidai), the Kyoto nobility developed a society devoted to elegant aesthetic pursuits. In the last century of the Heian period, the horizontal, illustrated narrative handscroll, known as e-maki (絵巻, lit. "picture scroll"), appeared. Dating from about 1130, the illustrated 'Tale of Genji' represents one of the high points of Japanese painting. Written about the year 1000 by Murasaki Shikibu, a lady-in-waiting to the Empress Akiko, the novel deals with the life and loves of Genji. The 12th-century artists of the e-maki version devised a system of pictorial conventions that convey visually the emotional content of each scene. In the second half of the century, a different, livelier style of continuous narrative illustration became popular.
E-maki also serve as some of the earliest and greatest examples of the otoko-e (男絵, Otoko-e, lit. “men's pictures”) and onna-e (女絵, On’na-e, lit. “women's pictures”) styles of painting. There are many fine differences in the two styles, appealing to the aesthetic preferences of the genders. But perhaps most easily noticeable are the differences in subject matter. Onna-e, epitomized by the Tale of Genji handscroll, typically deals with court life, particularly the court ladies, and with romantic themes. Otoko-e, on the other hand, often recorded historical events, particularly battles.
Unkei (運慶, around 1150–1223) was a Japanese sculptor of the Kei school, which flourished in the Kamakura period. The sculptures he produced for the Tōdai-ji in Nara show a flair for realism different from anything Japan had seen before.
In his history, Japan has been subject to sudden invasions of new and alien ideas followed by long periods of minimal contact with the outside world. Over time the Japanese developed the ability to absorb, imitate, and finally assimilate those elements of foreign culture that complemented their aesthetic preferences. The earliest complex art in Japan was produced in the 7th and 8th centuries AD in connection with Buddhism. In the 9th century, as the Japanese began to turn away from China and develop indigenous forms of expression, the secular arts became increasingly important; until the late 15th century, both religious and secular arts flourished. Being geographically at the terminal point of the Silk Road transmission of art, Japan was able to preserve many aspects of Buddhism at the very time it was disappearing in India, and being suppressed in Central Asia and China. The "official" introduction of Buddhism to Japan is dated to 552 or 538 when Seong of Baekje (the 26th king of Baekje, one of the Three Kingdoms of Korea) sent a mission to Nara including some Buddhist monks or nuns, together with numerous scriptures and works of art, and numbers of sutras to introduce Buddhism. Indian, Hellenistic, Chinese and Korean artistic influences blended into an original style characterized by realism and gracefulness. The creation of Japanese Buddhist art was especially rich between the 8th and 13th centuries during the periods of Nara, Heian and Kamakura.
The Jōmon pottery were distinguished themselves form contemporaneous any other vessels in the world; an artistic interest of Jōmon Japanese overwhelmed a practical utility.
During the period under the Muromachi or Ashikaga shogunate rule, a profound change took place in Japanese culture.
A parvenu Toyotomi Hideyoshi constructed a fabulous portable tea room, covered with gold leaf and lined inside with red gossamer.
In the Edo period, a style of woodblock prints called ukiyo-e became a major art form and its techniques were fine tuned to produce colorful prints.
The introduction of Western cultural values led to a dichotomy in Japanese art, as well as in nearly every other aspect of culture, between traditional values and attempts to duplicate and assimilate a variety of clashing new ideas.
Okuno Takuji, a Japanese anthropologist suggests that the expressive techniques in Anime and Manga today derive from the traditional techniques.
Managa is an art form in which expressive elements: drawing, typography, graphic design, and panel layout are highly integrated. The expressive techniques hold true for Anime, and make it a sophisticated art form.
Among Japanese traditional art techniques, line drawing has fundamental impact on today's Manga and Anime. "Drawn only with outlines, Manga who inherits the characteristic of Japanese-style painting made up of lines seem three-dimensional.
Murasaki Shikibu (紫 式部, English: Lady Murasaki) (c. 978 – c. 1014 or 1025) was a Japanese novelist, poet and lady-in-waiting at the Imperial court during the Heian period. She is best known as the author of The Tale of Genji, written in Japanese between about 1000 and 1012. Murasaki Shikibu is a nickname; her real name is unknown, but she may have been Fujiwara Takako, who was mentioned in a 1007 court diary as an imperial lady-in-waiting.