The Floating World


Ukiyo-e, which in Japanese literally means "floating-world-picture", is an apt description of the peaceful, isolated, "floating" environment reflected by this Edo Period (1601-1867) illustrative art form. Designed to be hung frameless on walls, ukiyo-e was popular, but under-appreciated in its time as it was considered "common" art. Furthering this predjudice was the fact that many ukiyo-e artists adapted their work for illustrated magazines called manga, a predecessor to modern comic books.

As one appreciates the beauty of this uniquely Japanese art form, it is important to keep in mind its historical significance. Not only did ukiyo-e have an enormous influence on European Impressionism, it existed during a sort of Pax Japonica between two turbulent historical periods. Before the Edo Period came centuries of brutal feudalism and civil war; after it came Commodore Perry and the Industrial Revolution, ending nearly two-hundred years of voluntary cultural isolation.

The unique stability and cultural refinement enjoyed by Edo Period Japanese was swiftly replaced by the requirements of militarism and industry as 1860 approached and the Meiji Era began. Like a child waking from a dream, Japan was forced to sacrifice its kimonos and its 'floating world', so it could survive to meet its modern destiny.


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