Japan art market profile

Japan's economy is currently stagnating, with soaring energy prices and faltering industrial output. However, the Bank of Japan is confident that the country's economy could be set to emerge from the doldrums in the near future on the back of monetary easing. When it does, the global art sector will feel the full force of the world's third largest economy.

Japan's economic slump in the 1990s saw many of the country's art buyers no longer able to maintain the prices seen in the late 1980s, when Western impressionist works and exquisite pieces from their homeland were achieving large sums.

Yayoi Kusama
A work by Yayoi Kusama, the most valuable living female artist

The market for Japanese art still bears the impact of those hard times, with prices for leading Japanese pieces available at a fraction of the price of comparable works by Western artists. The record for a piece of Japanese art currently stands at the $14.38m achieved for a circa 1185-1333 Dainichi Nyorai sun goddess statue at Christie's New York in 2008.


Japanese art still plays second-fiddle to Chinese works in the eyes of many buyers. Yet the market is showing signs of strength, with collectors both at home and abroad. £6.1m-worth of Japanese art sold during Bonhams' Asian art week in November, 2011.

New world records were set at the sale for Japanese inro (traditional Japanese cases consisting of nested boxes) and netsuke (miniature carvings), which both made £265,250. "There has always been an attraction with netsuke in the West," the head of Bonhams' Japanese department, Suzannah Yip, told the Japan Times. "This is because they are always small, well-carved, portable and very tactile."

Contemporary Japanese art is also hot property, both in Japan and elsewhere. Yayoi Kusama (born 1929) became the world's most valuable female artist in November, 2008, when one of her works sold for $5.1m at Christie's.

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