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– Karae (Chinese-style paintings) and Yamatoe (Japanese-style paintings)

The history of painting in Japan began during the Asuka Period (seventh century), when diplomatic relations were established between Japan and the kingdoms of the Continent and the Korean Peninsula. Later, during the Nara Period (eighth century), articles used in the Tang Court, as well as those concerned with Buddhism, were brought to Japan, which prompted the establishment of art studios. Production of crafts and a wide range of furniture and fixtures rich in decorative design flourished; especially popular was the production of byobu (lavishly decorated room partitions or screens). However, most popular were paintings of Buddha and other saints dedicated to various temples.

During the Heian Period (ninth to 12th centuries), the edokoro (an atelier of painters and decorators for the court and nobility) was opened in the imperial court, which resulted in the development of all genres of painting. Some professional painters connected to temples concentrated on decorating temple walls or painting Buddhist themes, while others painted secular matters and designs for byobu, portraits, and picture scrolls. Patterned after Chinese paintings, the Karae, or Chinese-style paintings, were particularly popular. This trend, in turn stimulated indigenous artistic styles called Yamatoe, or Japanese-style paintings, which incorporated the unique natural, cultural and artistic aspects of Japan. These two mainstreams of painting developed side by side for many centuries to come.

During the Kamakura and Muromachi periods (13th to 16th centuries), Karae flourished under the Kano School (official master painters), which incorporated Zen tenets in their paintings, while another group of court painters developed the Tosa School (master painters from the Tosa family), closely preserving the Yamatoe tradition.

The history of painting in Japan entered its golden era during the Momoyama Period, when exquisitely decorated fusuma (heavy sliding doors with paper panes) were produced in both Karae and Yamatoe styles. Momoyama was the age of rapid cultural development and maturity, resulting in a cultural flourish during the ensuing Edo Period.

The Century Cultural Foundation has a collection of paintings that include picture scrolls, brush-and-ink renditions, byobu screens, and portraits (of ancient master poets, such as Kakinomoto-no-Hitomaro; as well as deities), enabling the viewer a quick glance at the history of painting in Japan.