Murasaki Shikibu (late 10th–early 11th cent.) was the author of The Tale of Genji, probably the best-known Japanese literary classic in English since it was first translated in the 1920s. Zeami (Motokiyo, 1363–1443) was an actor who established Noh theater and wrote a number of plays that have been part of the Noh repertoire ever since. Monzaemon Chikamatsu (1653–1724) wrote plays for the Bunraku theater, many of which later became part of the repertoire of Kabuki. Basho (Matsuo Munefusa, 1644–94) perfected the writing of the poetic form now known as haiku. In this genre, three other poets are also known: Buson Yosa (1716–83), Issa Kobayashi (1763–1827), and the modern reformer Shiki Masaoka (1867–1902). Ryunosuke Akutagawa (1892–1927) is best known for his story "Rashomon." Prominent modern novelists include Jun'ichiro Tanizaki (1886–1965); Yasunari Kawabata (1899–1972), winner of the 1968 Nobel Prize for literature; Kobo Abe (1924–93); and Yukio Mishima (1925–70). A leading modern writer and Zen Buddhist scholar was Daisetz Teitaro Suzuki (1870–1966).
In art, Sesshu (1420–1506) was the most famous landscape artist of his day. Ogata Korin (1658–1716) was a master painter of plants, animals, and people. The leader of the naturalist school was Maruyama Okyo (1733–95). The best-known painters and wood-block artists of the " ukiyo-e " style were Kitagawa Utamaro (1754–1806), Katsushika Hokusai (1760–1849), Saito Sharaku (fl.1794–95), and Ando Hiroshige (1797–1858). Four 20th-century Japanese architects whose work has had a marked influence on international style are Mayekawa Kunio (1905–86), Hideo Kosaka (b.1912), Kenzo Tange (b.1913), and Yoshinobu Ahihara (b.1918).
Noted Japanese film directors include Kenjii Mizoguchi (1898–1956), Yasujiro Ozu (1903–63), and Akira Kurosawa (1910–92). Toshiro Mifune (b.1920) is the best-known film star abroad. Contemporary composers include Toshiro Mayuzumi (b.1929) and Toru Takemitsu (1930–96). Seiji Ozawa (b.1935) is a conductor of world renown. The leading home-run hitter in baseball history is Sadaharu Oh (b.1940), manager of the Yomiuri Giants, who retired as a player for the same team in 1980 after hitting 868 home runs.
Hideyo Noguchi (1876–1928), noted bacteriologist, is credited with the discovery of the cause of yellow fever and is famed for his studies on viruses, snake poisons, and toxins. Hideki Yukawa (1907–81), Japan's most noted physicist, received the 1949 Nobel Prize for research on the meson. In 1965, Shinichiro Tomonaga (1906–79), a professor at Tokyo University of Education, became one of the year's three recipients of the Nobel Prize for physics for work in the field of quantum electrodynamics. Leon Esaki (b.1925) won the Nobel Prize for physics in 1973; Kenichi Fukui (1918–1998) shared the 1981 chemistry award; and Susumu Tonegawa (b.1939) won the 1987 medicine award.
Hirohito (1901–89) became emperor of Japan in 1926. His eldest son, Akihito (b.1933), succeeded him in 1990. The leading statesman after World War II was Eisaku Sato (1901–75), prime minister from 1964 to 1972 and winner of the Nobel Peace Prize in 1974.