Today, Tawaraya Sōtatsu (active circa 1600–40) is regarded as one of the most inventive and visually dynamic painters in Japanese history, although we know very little about the man himself—his actual life dates, his family, his teachers. Our knowledge of the artist is based primarily on our knowledge of the output of the Tawaraya studio. In many ways, we are still in the process of discovering Sōtatsu.

circa 1600–40

Sōtatsu heads the Tawaraya shop in Kyoto, which sells fans and decorated cards and paper.

TNM Image Archives.


Sōtatsu repairs the 12th-century decorated sutra Heike nōkyō.

Movable metal type is introduced to Japan, prompting Emperor Go Yōzei (1571–1617) and the shogun Tokugawa Ieyasu (1543–1616) to sponsor a number of printing projects.

Detail, Emperor Go-Yōzei (left), Tokugawa Iyeyasu (right).

Merchant Suminokura Soan (1546–1614) starts a printing press that produces literary classics and librettos.

Sōtatsu collaborates with calligrapher Hon’ami Kōetsu (1546–1614).

Detail, Hon’ami Kōetsu.


A set of shikishi (poem cards) by Sōtatsu and Kōetsu marks the retirement of Imperial Regent Konoe Nobutada (1565–1614).

Detail, Metropolitan Museum of Art (left), Detail, Cleveland Museum of Art (right).


Sōtatsu, assisted by Tōshichirō, produces Painted Fans Mounted on a Screen, likely commissioned by the imperial court.

Sannomaru Shōzōkan, Museum of the Imperial Collections.


Sōtatsu decorates the sliding doors at Yōgen’in Temple.

The artist is given the honorific Dharma Bridge title and from this point signs his work Hokkyō.

Yogen’in Temple, Kyoto (left), Close-up of the Hokkyō seal (right).

circa 1627

Sōtatsu paints Waves at Matsushima.

Freer Gallery of Art.


Sōtatsu copies Life of Saigyō, a set of medieval picture scrolls in the imperial collections.

Agency for Cultural Affairs, Japan.


Sōtatsu creates The Barrier Gate and Channel Buoys for Daigoji temple.


Kōetsu dies and is buried at Koetsuji.

Kōetsuji temple in autumn, photographed by Imamiya Yasuhiro.


Sōtatsu is presumed to be deceased. The Tawaraya shop remains active and produces several grass-and-flower screens marked with the I’nen seal.

Freer Gallery of Art.


Birth of Ogata Kōrin. He adapts Sōtatsu’s style, which comes to be known as Rinpa.


Kōrin dies.

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