UKIYO-E: The Floating World
by Lucy Birmingham
Created for about two hundred years from the mid-1600s, ukiyo-e celebrated the hedonistic delights of the cordoned-off brothel and theatre district of Yoshiwara, capital of Edo (old Tokyo). Like the precursors of magazines and TV, the cheap and plentiful pictures of fashionable courtesans, heart-thumping Kabuki stars, lionised sumo wrestlers and erotica called “shunga,” delighted the masses and newly moneyed townsmen, chafing under the tight-fisted control of a fading shogunate. The great nature and landscape prints like Hokusai’s iconic “Great Wave off Kanagawa” and Hiroshige’s “Fifty-Three Stations of the Tokaido” were printed from the mid-1800s as travel souvenirs.