During the Tokugawa shogunate (1603-1868), the shogun required that the daimyo (lords) and their samurai spend time in Edo (now Tokyo) during alternate years. As a result, a large recreation and entertainment industry grew in Edo, serving first the daimyo and their samuari, and later the growing populace of Edo itself. This industry was referred to as ukiyo — the floating world.
Ukiyo-e, images of the “floating world”, are the woodblock prints of old Edo. Ukiyo-e are the images of the floating world and of the pleasures therein. Typical subjects include pictures of bijin (beautiful women), a favorite subject of Utamaro, kacho (birds and flowers), the kabuki theater, sumo, meisho (famous views), and scenes from history and myth as well as abuna-e and shunga (erotica).
The meisho images in particular exterted a strong influence on some of the Impressionists. Two meisho prints of Hiroshige are shown on this page — a snowy night in Kambara, along the Tokaido Road, and the view through the Kaminarimon gate in the Asakusa district of Tokyo (above). Although it's changed since Hiroshige's day, the temple is still familar to tourists today. Hokusai's 36 views of Mt. Fuji (160K of graphics) are another influential set of meisho images.
The earliest ukiyo-e date to the 17th century. They continued to be produced until after the arrival of Perry's Black Ships. Once contact with the West was established, Japanese ukiyo-e artists started to incorporate western methods and subjects into their prints, just as the appearance of ukiyo-e in Europe influenced the Impressionist and Art Nouveau movements. Even artists treating Japanese themes, such as Yoshitoshi, show the influence of western art. Traditional ukiyo-e declined throughout the Meiji period (1868-1912), and was supplanted by the “new prints” (shin-hanga) and “creative prints” (sosaku-hanga) of the Taisho (1912-1926) and Showa (1926-1989) periods.
Hiroshige, Kunisada and Kunihiko
Here are 5 ukiyo-e that are not widely available on the Net. The first three are by Hiroshige, from the 1855 Tokaido series Gojusan Tsugi Meisho Dzuye. There is more information about them on my Hiroshige page. I haven't yet precisely identified the other two prints, and any hints would be appreciated. The first is by Kunisada (Toyokuni III). I didn't have any information about the last print, but thanks to Hans Olof Johansson, I now know it is by Kunihiko. Kunihiko changed his name from Kuniteru in 1855, as noted on the print. Various sources list either 3 or 4 Kuniterus, Kunihiko was apparently Kuniteru I, like all the Kuniterus, he was a student of Kunisada.
Ukiyo-e on the Net
There are many sites on the net with ukiyo-e. Here are a few samples.
- Ukiyo-e — the pictures of the floating world, Hans Olof Johansson's page. The place to go if you're looking for ukiyo-e on the net. He has a very complete selection of links to other ukiyo-e pages, ukiyo-e, information about them, etc.
- Hiroshige. A very large selection of Hiroshige prints.
- Jim Breen's Ukiyo-E Gallery. Annotated and organized by artist, plus a number of additional images that aren't yet organized.
- The ETC Web Museum. An exhibition of Japanese prints.