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Do You Know Ukiyo-e Shifted Japanese Culture from Kansai to Tokyo?


Do You Know Ukiyo-e Shifted Japanese Culture from Kansai to Tokyo?


"Ukiyo-e" Is a Genre of Painting Established in the Early Edo Period


"Ukiyo-e" is a genre of painting established in the early Edo period. Generally, Edo-period woodblock prints are known as representative works of ukiyo-e. However, originally hand-painted pictures (those drawn directly with a brush) preceded and later transitioned to woodblock prints. Woodblock prints enabled mass production and lower costs, making them accessible to the general public.


Do You Know Ukiyo-e Shifted Japanese Culture from Kansai to Tokyo?


"Ukiyo-e" Means "Pictures Depicting Contemporary Fashion and Trends"


The term "浮世("Uki-yo")" originates from "憂き世" ("Uki-yo"), where "Uki" means "suffering" or "painful" and "yo" is a noun meaning "world." It refers to the transient and sorrowful nature of life. Later, it came to be used to describe contemporary trends and fashions. Therefore, "Ukiyo-e" means pictures depicting the fashionable trends of the time.


Do You Know Ukiyo-e Shifted Japanese Culture from Kansai to Tokyo?


Nishiki-e (Full-Color Prints) Began in 1765


Woodblock print ukiyo-e began with "Sumizuri-e" (black and white prints) in the Manji era (1657-1661). In 1690, "Tan-e" (hand-colored prints) were created by adding colors with a brush to Sumizuri-e, followed by "Beni-e" and "Urushi-e" in 1716. In 1744, "Benizuri-e" (prints using red, yellow, and green) emerged, and in 1765, "Nishiki-e" (full-color prints using multiple blocks) was invented. While "Nishiki-e" and "ukiyo-e" are often used interchangeably, strictly speaking, Nishiki-e refers to multi-colored ukiyo-e prints.


Do You Know Ukiyo-e Shifted Japanese Culture from Kansai to Tokyo?


Hishikawa Moronobu is the Founder of Ukiyo-e


The first person to create ukiyo-e in Japan is said to be Hishikawa Moronobu (1618?-1694), who was active in the early Edo period. His earliest illustrated book is believed to have been published in 1671. Although Moronobu's era was still monochrome with Sumizuri-e, the advent of Nishiki-e brought full-color prints. The mass production of Nishiki-e through woodblock printing allowed the common people to find and purchase single-sheet prints for personal enjoyment at an affordable price (equivalent to a bowl of soba noodles). The mass production and consumption enabled by ukiyo-e printing technology in Edo allowed Edo culture to rival Kamigata culture from the latter half of the 17th century onwards.


Ukiyo-e Played a Key Role in Shifting Japanese Culture from the Kansai Region to Tokyo


Thus, the emergence of ukiyo-e was pivotal in shifting Japanese culture from the Kansai region to Edo (modern-day Tokyo). Viewing ukiyo-e through the lens of Japan's cultural shift allows us to appreciate them not only as artworks but also as historical documents that provide a broader perspective on Japanese history.


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