Learn about ukiyo-e woodblock! Definition, history, famous artists and prints

(Last Updated On: 10/11/2018)

What is a “ukiyo-e”? An introduction to Japanese woodblock printing

Ukiyo-e  (pronounciation:uː.ˈki.oʊ.ˌeɪ, uːˌkiːjəʊˈeɪ. 浮世絵 in kanji) is essential field in Japanese art . The art never developed without the common people of the Edo Period.


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It is said that the beginning of the ukiyo-e, the Japanese art of woodblock printings, is the pictures of Kyoto people’s living in late 16th century.



After that, the themes of ukiyoe expanded to popular kabuki actors, beautiful women and landscapes. “ukiyo” (浮世) means contemporary with hedonisitic and fleeting idea, so ukiyo-e translated as picture of floating world.

Three beauties of the present day

Three beauties of the present day


The definition and evolution of ukiyo-e

The source of ukiyoe was Yamato-e (大和絵, traditional Japanese painting) but drew the line from the field of China art including the Kano School (狩野派). The ukiyo-e artist made the artworks for not the warrior (samurai) class but the ordinary middle class citizens.


So they basically created the paints for a woodcut to sell them in low price. Comparing other Japanese art, it is distinct charactheristic.




Naniwa-ya Okita

When we think about ukiyo-e, we just imagine a woodblock printing (版画, hanga). But it includes an original painting (肉筆画, nikuhitsu-ga). The famous ukiyo-e artists drew both for a woodblock printing and an original painting.


The Chushingura (47 ronin)



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The Famous ukiyo-e Artists list

Hishikawa Moronobu(?-1694)

Suzuki Harunobu(1725-1770)

Torii Kiyonaga(1752-1815)

Katsukawa Shunsho(1726?-1743)

Kitao Shigemasa(1739-1820)

Kitagawa Utamaro(1753?-1806)

Toshusai Sharaku(?-?)

Katsushika Hokusai(1760-1849)

Utagawa Toyokuni(1769-1825)

Utagawa Kunisada(the third Toyokuni)(1786-1865)

Utagawa Hiroshige(1797-1858)

Utagawa Kuniyoshi(1797-1861)

Tsukioka Yoshitoshi(1839-1892)

Kobayashi Kiyochika(1847-1915)

Yoshida Hiroshi(1876-1950)

Kawase Hasui(1883-1957)







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