Japanese Encyclopedia: Ukiyo-e

Japanese Encyclopedia: Ukiyo-e

2016.02.04

Ukiyo-e, also known as woodblock prints, are a type of traditional Japanese artwork which has been around since the 17th century.

Translated by Verity Lane

Written by MATCHA

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Ukiyo-e are a type of traditional Japanese artwork that first appeared around the 17th century. For the Japanese, just the mere mention of the word ukiyo-e conjures up the famous works of art seen in their school textbooks. These include images of mountains and seascapes, or portraits of actors from traditional performing arts like Kabuki. Ukiyo-e images are humorous in part, and have a refined nature.

Times May Change, But the Charm of Ukiyo-e Remains

The roots of ukiyo-e can be traced back to the traditional Japanese ink wash painting (sumie). The pictures were at first created with just black ink, but it wasn't long before the images became more colorful. Printing (the technique of producing more copies of the same image) also came onto the scene. The woodblock prints are created through the collaborative efforts of three people: the artist who draws the original image (eshi), the engraver who carves the image onto the woodblock (horishi) and the third party printer who creates copies of the image (surishi).

Ukiyo-e, Mandala And More: Tokyo National Museum

Ukiyo means both "reality" and "contemporary age" in Japanese. Ukiyo-e pictures used to illustrate everyday life situations, but reached a wide variety of subjects, depicting traditional Japanese arts, women, famous warriors, fairy tales and commercial advertisements. It is said that in those days the Japanese people would display ukiyo-e pictures just like we display posters of movie stars and pop stars today.

The designs and bold colors of ukiyo-e have impressed many painters and artists from Japan and abroad, and can still be enjoyed today. However, the shortage of artisan successors in this field is of serious concern, as it leaves Japan with the huge dilemma of how to keep this traditional culture alive for centuries to come.

Ukiyo-e Goods Are Very Popular Souvenirs And Gifts

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6 Unique Souvenirs From Japan For Everyone

There are several museums where you can see ukiyo-e. For example, the Ōta Memorial Museum of Art (Tokyo, Shibuya district), which has a collection of more than 12,000 ukiyo-e pictures, and the Tokyo Fuji Art Museum (Tokyo, Hachiōji City). There are also other institutions throughout the various regions of Japan. Postcards, T-shirts, and various other merchandise with ukiyo-e designs are popular for both everyday use and as souvenirs. They might also be great keepsakes to remind you of your travels!

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