He was born July 23, 1908, in Shimotsuga district, Tochigi prefecture. Demonstrating artistic talent from a very young age, he won a Ministry of Education award after showing at a painting exhibition at the age of 7.
In 1926, he enrolled at the Tokyo Art School, specializing in Nihonga. This was at the same time that such now-famous painters as Higashiyama Kaii were at the school. Due to a variety of circumstances, however, Isson left the School after only three months.
Isson relocated from Tokyo to Chiba prefecture in 1938, where he painted fusuma-e (sliding doors) and ceilings for a time. In 1946, several of his paintings were selected for inclusion at the 19th Seiryûkai exhibition, but he decided to quit the Tokyo-centered art world and left to travel.
In late 1958, he found his way to Amami Ôshima and decided he wanted to spend the rest of his life there. For the next twenty years, he produced paintings of sub-tropical island flora and fauna and other such themes while working in Ôshima tsumugi textile dyeing. He died on Sept 11, 1977, leaving behind roughly thirty paintings.
It wasn't until his works were featured on an NHK television program in 1984-85, however, that he gained any considerable fame or recognition (and then, only posthumously). Isson has since become a decidedly notable and known name within the modern history of Japanese art, and a museum on Amami dedicated to his paintings is a major tourist attraction on the island. One of his old houses on the island has also been maintained.
- Plaques on-site at Isson's former house, Naze City, Amami Ôshima.