Ukiyo-e is a genre of paintings that flourished in Japan during the Edo period (1603-1868). Although woodblock prints were common at the time, actual paintings done by famous artists were very expensive. Woodblock printings made the luxury of art affordable for many ordinary people, and Ukiyo-e came to become an indispensable part of the culture of Edo.
Ukiyo-e, which literally means “floating painting”, was a kind of pop culture in urbanizing Edo (Tokyo). Many popular entertainment scenes were depicted within its borders, with subjects like Kabuki, classic nobles, folk tales, ghost stories, comics, portraits, animals, travel scenes and landscapes. It is hard to imagine now, but Ukiyo-e were a major source of entertainment for people living in Tokyo during this period. Its bold and exaggerated styles are very vivid and powerful. It is safe to say that Ukiyo-e culture and its style have influenced Anime and Manga (comics), which have become Japan’s most recognized form of pop culture today.
When Japan abandoned its seclusion from the world and began trading with foreign countries during the Meiji era (1868-1912), Ukiyo-e began getting much more attention from overseas. In fact, many Ukiyo-e pieces were brought to Western countries and their influence is said to have been strong on great Impressionist artists like Monet and Van Gough.
The most famous and prominent Ukiyo-e artists are Hokusai and his traveling scene woodprints. These are probably the most popular in the genre. There is also Utamaro Kitagawa, who is famous for his depictions of beautiful women, and Sharaku, who made himself a name with his exaggerated deformation style. There were many other working Ukiyo-e artists during the Edo period and a high demand from the citizens to match, which helped keep their prices reasonable. However, authentic Ukiyo-e pieces are very expensive if one were to buy one today. There are many souvenir goods based on Ukiyo-e, including T-shirts, postcards and prints. These items are popular gifts, too.
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