Japanese Art from the Floating World
Woodblock Prints

Japanese Art from the Floating World is drawn from ukiyo-e, “pictures of the floating world.”  They were woodblock prints mass-produced to promote the celebrity of actors and courtesans from the pleasure district of Edo (now Tokyo).  This advertising, akin to the aggressive promotion of rock stars today, glorified their milieu.

Modern Japan emerged from centuries of isolation in the late Edo period through the Meiji Restoration, Taishō period, and into the Shōwa period, roughly from 1800 through 1925.   Old patrician privilege eroded, as did the influence of the samurai, or warrior class, whose role virtually diminished in a time of ensuing peace and prosperity.

A new urban culture was established by the Tokugawa dynasty to control Japan's fractious noble families.  By requiring that they reside in Edo for a substantial part of the year, an urban economy developed.   New patterns of entertainment, such as the public teahouse and the kabuki theater, were encouraged.  Not without conflict, but still maintaining respect for tradition, the Japanese embraced change eagerly in this period, especially from 1853 when their ports were opened to foreign commerce.

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