Japanese painting techniques are very similar to the Chinese, which is usually seen in the form of a scroll, album, or fan format. In addition, Chinese masters largely inspired the choice of images used in Japanese paintings. In Japan, various schools of painting flourished and can be identified by style, subject, and technique. Learning the different schools and styles can help us to better appreciate Japanese paintings.
The earliest artistic centers in Japan were Buddhist monasteries, where emissaries brought Chinese paintings and architectural design back from China. During this early time, Japanese paintings primarily reflect images of Amida, the Buddha of compassion. Later, Japanese painting entered the Yamoto-e period, when Japanese artists began to break away from Chinese influence and assert themselves. Calligraphy began to take on a greater importance, as did Japanese narrative scroll paintings. Yamato-e Japanese paintings have lightly drawn outlines filled with thick and bright colors.
Later, Zen Buddhism was imported from China to Japan and carried with it a new Japanese painting style that would become purely Japanese. Zen practitioners were not concerned with religious imagery and so Japanese artists tended to paint more gardens and landscape scenes. The emphasis in this new brand of Japanese painting became realism and man's interaction with nature was stressed in most Zen paintings. Emerging from Zen was the manifestation of a new form of Japanese painting called Suiboku - a technique of freely drawn images in black inks that originated in China.