Ukiyo-e Pictures of the Floating World

Ukiyo-e ¨Pictures of the Floating World¨


Ukiyo-e is a genre of Japanese art which flourished from the 17th through 19th centuries. Its artists produced woodblock prints and paintings of such subjects as female beauties; kabuki actors and sumo wrestlers; scenes from history and folk tales; travel scenes and landscapes; flora and fauna; and erotica.

The term ukiyo-e (浮世絵) translates as “pictures of the floating world”.

Ukiyo-e (浮世絵), “pictures of the floating world”, is a genre of Japanese woodblock prints. They were produced between the 17th and the 20th centuries, that showed landscapes, tales from history, the theatre, and brothels. It is the main artistic genre of woodblock printing in Japan.

Ukiyo-e were cheap because they could be mass-produced. They were meant for mainly townsmen, who were generally not rich enough to pay an original painting. The original subject of ukiyo-e was city life, in particular activities and scenes from the entertainment district. Beautiful courtesans, big Sumo wrestlers and popular actors would be portrayed while doing interesting activities. Later on landscapes also became popular. To this day, Ukiyo-e is still very popular across the world.

A novelist of the time period, Asai Ryōi, in his Ukiyo monogatari (浮世物語 “Tales of the Floating World”, c. 1661), gives an insight into the idea of the floating world:

“Living only for the moment, turning our full attention to the pleasures of the moon, the snow, the cherry blossoms and the maple leaves; singing songs, drinking wine, diverting ourselves in just floating, floating; … refusing to be disheartened, like a gourd floating along with the river current: this is what we call the floating world”.


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