Ukiyo-e (浮世絵) are Japanese woodblock prints which flourished during the Edo Period (1603-1867). They originated as popular culture in Edo (present day Tokyo) and depicted popular geisha, sumo wrestlers and kabuki actors from the world of entertainment. Ukiyo-e, literally "paintings of the floating world", were so named because their subjects were associated with impermanence and detachment from ordinary life.
At first ukiyo-e were monochrome, but by the mid 18th century polychrome prints were made. The woodblock printing technique enabled mass production which meant affordability, and therefore led to the popularity of these prints. New genres of ukiyo-e such as short story compilations and paintings of landscapes or historical events later became well received. The beginning of the 19th century saw the emergence of several outstanding ukiyo-e artists like Hokusai, Hiroshige and Utamaro, who created famous prints that are celebrated to this day.
The Meiji Period (1868-1912) saw an influx of Western technology into Japan such as photography, leading to diminished interest in ukiyo-e within Japan. Interestingly, however, the prints gained some prominence in Europe where they had an influence in the works of Impressionist painters. Nowadays, ukiyo-e can be appreciated at art galleries and museums across Japan. Below is a list of some of them:
Opened in 2016 in the Ryogoku district of Tokyo's Sumida City Ward, the birth place of Katsushika Hokusai, the well-done, fully bilingual Sumida Hokusai Museum features a permanent exhibition room with Hokusai's works through his life and interesting general information about ukiyo-e, as well as exhibition space for rotating, temporary exhibitions related to the great painter.
The oldest and largest museum in Japan, this museum in Ueno Park is made up of five buildings, each like a separate museum in itself. They house the largest collection of national treasures and important cultural items in the country, and exhibit many works of art in ukiyo-e.
The small and elegant Ota Memorial Museum of Art in Harajuku exhibits selected ukiyo-e paintings and prints from the vast collection of the late Mr. Ota Seizo, which comprises of more than 10,000 pieces of art. Exhibits are changed every month.
The Tokaido Hiroshige Museum is devoted to ukiyo-e artist Utagawa Hiroshige (1797-1858) and his works which include the "53 Stations of the Tokaido" series. The museum is located along the former Tokaido highway that used to connect Tokyo with Kyoto, not far from one of the points that is depicted in the before-mentioned series.
The Japan Ukiyo-e Museum exhibits selected woodblock prints from the vast collection of the Sakai family, a wealthy merchant family who started collecting ukiyo-e about 300 years ago. The Sakai family currently has a collection of more than 100,000 art pieces.
This museum in Obuse Town, Nagano Prefecture pays tribute to Hokusai, one of the most famous Edo Period painters. Hokusai is best known for his ukiyo-e series "Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji", which includes the world famous "Great Wave off Kanagawa".
This museum in Osaka's Namba district is the only one in the world to have a permanent Kamigata Ukiyo-e exhibit. Kamigata Ukiyo-e are woodblock prints from the Kyoto/Osaka region that typically feature portraits of kabuki actors. The third floor of the building is dedicated to rice growing and the roof has been converted to a small rice field.