With spring upon us, it’s time for that most highly anticipated celebration – sakura season. The streets, parks and mountains of Japan are dusted pink with cherry blossoms, and we can finally look forward to some warmer weather.
The season lasts for an all too brief couple of weeks, but that doesn’t mean it’s the only time we can enjoy this iconic Japanese flower. The fleeting beauty of the cherry blossom has been immortalized by Japanese painters for centuries. Their unforgettable depictions live on in all manner of forms, from prints to kimonos, murals to silk screens.
We have gathered together 12 inspirational cherry blossom prints and paintings from artists old and new. So read on to enjoy the cherry blossom art, and let us know which are you favorites in the comments below.
1. Miki Katoh
In the tradition of bijinga, or paintings of beautiful women, Miki Katoh’s work presents her modern subjects in exquisitely detailed and refined kimono.
Here the dazzling white sakura frame the composition, as petals fall like rain from above. Katoh often uses scenery from historic or mythical Japan to locate her work in an evocative cultural context. In the background of this painting, Amezakura, a vintage car is parked in front of the Kabukiza Theater in Ginza, creating a nostalgic image of Tokyo’s cherry blossom season.
2. Reiji Hiramatsu
Reiji Hiramatsu’s impressionistic paintings often use simple natural motifs such as mountains, trees, and flowers, to describe an affectionate view of Japan and its beautiful natural environment. His style can be likened to the Rinpa school, which emerged in the 17th century, although Hiramatsu’s warm pastel colors are thoroughly modern.
The thick cherry blossoms in this painting, Prayer of Japan (Cherry Blossoms), glow under the moonlight, highlighting the sense of the sacred associated with this spring flower.
This sublime cherry blossom art can be seen at the Yugawara Art Museum in Kanagawa.
3. Tokuriki Tomikichiro
Mount Fuji through the cherry blossoms is one of Japan’s most popular views!
Artist Tokuriki Tomikichiro came from a family line of artists stretching back at least five hundred years. He is well known today for his prints in the shin hanga (new print) style, which was a 20th century movement to revitalize the woodblock print using western techniques, but retaining traditional subjects and production methods.
However, Tokuriki’s passion lay with the sosaku hanga (creative prints) movement, which grew up around the same time. Sosaku artists were freer in their choice of subject and modes of self-expression. In this print for example, Tokuriki strips out all the extraneous detail, leaving only the exuberant pink blossoms against the magnificence of Mount Fuji’s snow-laden peak.
4. Kitagawa Utamaro
When the cherry trees bloom, people in Japan seize the opportunity to gather together under the blossoms to enjoy the view, and a glass or two!
Flower viewing parties, hanami, is a celebration that dates back at least a thousand years. This cherry blossom scroll painting from renowned wood block artist Kitagawa Utamaro shows that the tradition was going strong in 1793 when he portrayed these courtly ladies enjoying the flowers, the music and the company.
To find out more about the history of Japanese art, visit our Ultimate Guide!
5. Kaho Hyakkan
The glorious pink cherry blossoms take center stage in this seasonal composition while the other flowers, beautiful as they, can only look on in envy from the edges, waiting their turn. It takes a special skill to bring the changing seasons to life so vividly.
The Kaga Yuzen style of kimono decoration specializes in finely detailed and vibrant scenes of flowers and nature. Using a palette of just five colors artists such as Kaho Hyakkan paint intricate natural designs onto the white kimono cloth, before sealing the patterns with rice paste, and dyeing the background material. You can find out more by visiting the Kaga Yuzen Kimono Center in Kanazawa.
6. Bakufu Ono
In this cherry blossom print by Bakufu Ono, a multi-hued turtle dove perches serenely in the branches, while white sakura blossoms and unopened buds bristle around it.
Bakufu Ono (1888-1976) was an artist and print-maker whose popular woodcuts document the animals and flowers of Japan. The memorable details of his subjects are emphasized through conspicuous colors and closely observed shading, in the process creating instantly recognizable natural motifs.
While ukiyo-e prints are an ideal medium for cherry blossom art, sakura are not the only flowers to receive this treatment. Check out these Japanese Floral Prints for more images of Japanese nature.
7. Insho Domoto
Konohana Sakuya Hime, or the Cherry Blossom Princess, is a deity revered in Japanese mythology as the spirit of the sacred Mount Fuji, and the goddess of the cherry blossoms.
In this dream-like painting on silk by Insho Domoto (1892-1975), the princess reclines on a spring meadow with wild flowers at her feet, and sakura tree branches heavy with flowers bowing down to greet her. Entwined in her hair are grape vines, symbols of seasonal fertility.
During Domoto’s long career he became well known for his religious art, and was often commissioned to paint murals and screens in Buddhist temples, and even Christian churches, around Japan. In this piece the warmth of feeling Domoto portrays suggests a personal connection to the cherry blossom kami.
The Sakuya Hime and other great works by this artist can be seen at the Insho Domoto Museum of Fine Arts in Kyoto.
8. Kenichi Okubo
The simplicity of the two-tone pink base color on this elegant silk kimono allows the snow white cherry blossoms to shine with reflected light.
Working with clothing affords an artist modes of expression that are not available on a flat surface. Kenichi Okubo expertly employs the curved spaces of this garment to lend depth to this three-dimensional painting of a flowering cherry tree.
You can see more of Okubo’s works and other incredible kimono at the Kaga Yuzen Kimono Center.
9. Kikugawa Eizan
Kikugawa Eizan’s focus is on the glorious outfit of the courtesan Somegawa, and he recreates the vibrant patterns and exaggerated shapes in this woodblock print with a great eye for detail. The cherry blossoms the border the top of the print are afforded no such attention; in fact they are included less as a living flower than as a symbolic motif. But what do they mean?
Cherry blossoms in ukiyo-e prints were often a shorthand for the beauty of the Edo courtesans: considered radiant in full-bloom, but sadly short-lived.
10. Meiji Hashimoto
This exceptional nihonga artwork by Meiji Hashimoto, entitled Sakura, can be seen in the State Hall of the Tokyo Imperial Palace. A cherry blossom painting that thoroughly embodies the spirit of Japan!
It was in the early 1970s that Hashimoto was tasked with painting one of the two sliding cedar doors in the eastern passageway of the Palace’s Seiden Hall. The painting features elaborate use of gold, and the flowers are in glorious full bloom, which reflects the ceremonial nature of the hall.
He based the painting on his sketches of the Mihara Takizakura, an iconic thousand-year old cherry tree in Tamura, Fukushima.
11. Shinsui Ito
With the warm yellow background in this emotive cherry blossom print, it almost looks like a sunny day. But the eponymous spring rain is masterfully recreated in different shades of reflective color on the subject’s umbrella as she huddles beneath the sakura tree.
Shinsui Ito (1898-1972) was one of Japan’s most celebrated modern print-makers. He was particularly well-know for his modern incarnations of the bijinga print, or pictures of beautiful women.
12. Taikan Yokoyama
Cherry Blossoms are not just beloved for their beauty, but for their ephemerality. Every year, they burst forth in lustrous color from the bare winter branches, then days later, just as suddenly they are gone. The feelings of wonder tinged with sadness that they elicit have allowed them to represent much deeper feelings about the passage of time itself.
Taikan Yokoyama’s heartfelt nihonga-style cherry blossom art illustrates just a handful of remaining flowers clinging to the branches of an old cherry tree against the light of the setting sun.