授賞式写真
Brief history of the Japan Art Association

For two and a half centuries, the Tokugawa shogunate ruled Japan with a strictly insular policy that denied foreign influence. This came to an end in 1868 with the restoration of imperial rule under Emperor Meiji. There followed a sudden inflow of Western civilization, and an attempt by the leaders of the Meiji government (1868–1912) to match the West and thus establish Japan as a modern state in the eyes of the rest of the world. As a result, Japanese traditional culture, including the arts, tended to be unappreciated. The Ryuchikai, precursor of the Japan Art Association, came into existence in 1879 in order to revive and promote Japanese art.

Right from the start the Ryuchikai saw part of its purpose as the introduction of Japanese art overseas. The first exhibitions abroad were held in Paris in 1883 and 1884. The Ryuchikai gained the support of the Imperial Family and was granted land to build an exhibition pavilion. In 1887, the name was changed to the Japan Art Association. For much of the early part of the twentieth century, the main activities of the Association were researching and cataloging Japanese artworks, and preventing their removal from Japan. At the same time the Association encouraged a controlled export of Japanese art and craftwork as a counterbalance to the lack of industrial products that Japan had for sale. Activities ceased during the Second World War, and recovery was slow for the Association after it, but between 1968 and 1972 a new exhibition hall was completed and named the Ueno Royal Museum. It has subsequently proved to be an important venue, hosting exhibitions from, for example, The Museum of Modern Art, New York.

The governorship of the Association has passed successively to members of the Imperial Family. Prince Takamatsu served as governor from 1929 to 1987. The late 1980s was a time when Japan's economy was soaring and Japan's international relations were strained by trade imbalances in Japan's favor with the United States and other nations. Prince Takamatsu thought it was time for Japan to contribute to the global community in a meaningful way through the arts. The Praemium Imperiale was established in his honor and according to his last wishes. The first awards were given on October 27, 1989.

The awards are given annually to individuals who have distinguished themselves internationally in the fields of painting, sculpture, architecture, music, and theatre/film. The 5 laureates each receive an honorarium of 15 million yen and a medal and diploma presented by governor of the Japan Art Association Prince Hitachi in a ceremony in Tokyo.

In 1997, the Japan Art Association started the Praemium Imperiale Grant for Young Artists to support and encourage young artists.

In October, 1998 the Japan Art Association celebrated the tenth anniversary of the Praemium Imperiale in the presence of the Emperor and Empress of Japan.