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Ukiyo-e, from the early Edo period (1670-1730)
to Masters of the woodblock mid-late Edo(1730-1868).
Ukiyo-e, translated from Japanese, literally means "images of the floating world", the floating world at the time, a metaphor for the life of pleasure districts, entertainment districts built for and maintained by a rising merchant class. Life in Japan during the Edo period was marked by the toppling of Japan's divine ruler, the Emperor around 1614. The new feudal government of the Shogunate implemented a cast system, dividing the Japanese by rank. At the top, 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. Farmers constituted the secondary citizen, as the strength of their labor produced the raw materials needed for society to function. In feudal Japan, it was considered beneath a warrior, or farmer, to handle money, or barter and exchange for their needs. This "dirty" task was left to the lower 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 Shogunate was largely a result of nostalgia of the "old ways", a society unmarred by foreign influences that were beginning to change the fabric of Japanese society. Thus the island of Japan was closed off from western "barbarianism", and went through a period of relative peace and prosperity. Towards the end of the Edo period, the merchant class had ballooned, 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 a float 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 ascetic" to the rest of the world, immortalizing their style, perspectives, and way of life for our viewing pleasure.
Originally a blog post from Edo Gallery by Roland Oliver.
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