April 24, 2014 by Ray Yanek
Ukiyo-e, which translated means “the floating world”, is a genre of Japanese woodblock prints that came into prominence in the city of Edo (modern Tokyo) during the shogun period. Ukiyo-e is sometimes considered “the art of the pleasure quarter”. In cities like Edo, the shoguns established walled areas of the city that were meant strictly for the pursuit of pleasures. These were the areas of brothels, tea houses, theaters and other pleasurable pursuits.
The ukiyo-e prints focused on the life of these pleasure centers. Subjects generally focused around images of the warrior class, geisha, kabuki, famous courtesans and well-known actors. Occasionally, the prints would focus on romantic landscapes around the area. To learn more of the history of this genre see the Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History here.
I first discovered Japanese woodblock prints in the Creative Writing class I teach at the high school. My students are asked, at the start of our poetry unit, to compose haiku based on of the woodblock prints at this place that seem to inspire them. I’ve really gotten some great haiku over the year based on this exercise. Here’s a link to the gallery that I use.
To be honest, I prefer the softer and calmer works of the 20th century gallery above, but still the ukiyo-e prints are beautiful in their own right and there is nothing better than a colorful glimpse into another time and culture.
To see more examples of the ukiyo-o prints please click the gallery here.