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Early - demons 10.25'' x 14 78''.jpg

An Idiot's Guide:
Collect Like A Connoisseur 

Under the thumb of the Shogun, a world afloat. The early beginnings of ukiyo-e.

A dragon approaches Mt. Fuji. E-hon page by Katsushika Hokusai

The term Ukiyo-e, translated from Japanese, literally means "images of the floating world". The floating world, during the Japanese Edo period (1614 -1869), was a metaphor, describing the lifestyle of the pleasure districts, entertainment districts built for and maintained by a rising merchant class. To understand the early beginnings of these pleasure districts, we visit the historical beginnings of the feudal system in Japan which began hundreds of years after Europe's feudal states.

Rain of Arrows by Kuniyoshi. Southern Court warriors under a barrage of arrows from the much larger Northern forces. A battle from the Taiheiki, an historical epic detailing the fall of the Southern Court, and subsequent extinction of the Southern line of Emperors.

The rise of the Shogunate is marked by three distinct periods of time where a Shogun, short for seii taishōgun, "Barbarian quelling general", placed themselves above the seat of the divine imperial emperor. Historically, the title of Shogun was a mandate issued by the imperial government, elevating the head of one of Japan's powerful families as the commander of it's military forces. Early Shogun were appointed in times of need to lead armies fighting northern tribes in the early 8th and 9th centuries, their power was limited to strictly military matters. The Edo period began when the head of the Tokugawa clan, Tokugawa Ieyasu, defeated the warring daimyo factions, uniting Japan once again under his Shogunate. In 1603, Tokugawa established his headquarters in the city of Edo (now Tokyo), marking the beginning of life in Japan during the Edo period.

An artisan crafts a barrel. From the 36 views of Mt. Fuji by Hokusai

The new feudal government of the Shogunate entrenched the caste system, dividing the Japanese by rank. At the top, the Shogun himself, of the warrior class, or specifically the Samurai warriors loyal to the Shogun, the living embodiment of strength, honor, and family name, these Samurai could do what they wished with near impunity. Below the Shogun, the Daimyos' whom controlled the powerful clans and were given provinces to steward. Those in the warrior class, were given their rank at birth, as the samurai blood lines were passed down through family name. Peasants or farmers constituted the secondary citizen, along with artisans, as the strength of their labor produced the raw materials needed for society to function. In feudal Japan, it was considered beneath Samurai, peasants, and artisans to handle money or make one's living through barter and exchange. This "dirty" task was left to the lowest ranks of the merchant class or money handlers. To the Japanese, honor, and family were put above all else, and making a living profiting from the fruits of another man's labor was considered dishonorable, a merchant would buy from one man only to sell to another at a higher price, this was seen as not providing an essential need to society, and therefore "unclean".

The rise of the third and last Shogunate dynasty was largely a result of nostalgia for the "old ways", a society unmarred by foreign influences that were beginning to change the fabric of Japanese society. Westerners had landed on the island of Japan for the first time in 1543, and by the 1600's their influence was by many to be toxic. Thus the island of Japan was closed off from western "barbarianism", and went through a period of relative peace and prosperity. It would not be until 1853, when the American Commodore Perry sailed four steam ships into Tokyo harbor, forcing the Shogunate to open the Island of Japan to the west.

Flying Kites by Ando Hiroshige.

Towards the end of the Edo period, the merchant class had ballooned, the need for commerce and trade had expanded at a rapid pace. Pleasure districts were fast becoming the entertainment centers for the Japanese, carving out a society within the archaic feudal system, one in which creativity and beauty became the coin of the realm, A world afloat with beautiful geisha, kabuki theatre, and the artistic impressions, rendered into woodblock prints by the great ukiyo-e artists, whom not only pioneered a new form of artwork, they brought the beauty of Japan and the "Japanese aesthetic" to the rest of the world. immortalizing their style, unique perspectives, and way of life for our viewing pleasure for generations to come.

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