Ukiyo-e, literally meaning ‘pictures of the floating world’, is the name given to the multi-coloured woodblock prints that were exceptionally popular and affordable to the general population of Japan during the Edo period (1600–1868).
After centuries of military upheaval and hardship for the middle classes, the Edo period ushered a new era of peace and stability. People's attention turned to making money and enjoying life. The general public was inspired by a vibrant consumer culture, new fashions and recreational pursuits. A new style of theatre called Kabuki gained great popularity, and people’s interests in travel, sport and literature flourished.
To service these new passions, entrepreneurial publishers worked with leading artists and employed carvers and printers to develop an intricate multi-block/ multi-colour printing process, producing some of the most exquisite prints and illustrated books in all history. Ukiyo-e prints and e-hon printed books focused on popular subjects and were mass-produced for sale to the public.
These printed works give us a detailed window into the tastes and life styles of Edo period Japan just as magazines, posters and the Internet represent our current-day society. For example, images of Hollywood stars can be compared to Kabuki actors, movie action scenes to dramatic Japanese historical dramas, sports stars to sumo wrestlers, fashion models to bijin (beautiful woman), comic books to e-hon picture books and historical manga. Almost all the subjects of popular twenty-first century culture can find similar themes produced in Ukiyo-e prints of the Edo period.
This post is part of the Wordless Wednesday meme,
and also part of the ABC Wednesday meme.