What is Ukiyo-e?

Ukiyo-e is a historical wood-block style of artwork from Japan — where wood is etched and used a stamp on a canvas of the artists’ choice (sometimes washi).

You might know ukiyo-e as “that really cool, unique style of Japanese art.”


Did you know ukiyo-e was drawn to depict the lives of commoners during the Edo period?

Usually depicting subjects like beautiful women (some things never change), actors, and scenic landscapes.

Ukiyo-e was created using woodblocks. The art was etched into the block and then stamped onto paper. This gave the ability to mass-produce — therefore being affordable for commoners as a form of entertainment.

Western paintings of the time focused on perspective, shading, and shadows. 

Ukiyo-e focused on the outlines of subjects — using almost no shading or shadows.

The era of ukiyo-e art started in about 1672 and ended in the 1880s.

TOUR: Discover Japanese history and art at the Tokyo National Museum

In this activity, we’ll accompany you to the Tokyo National Museum in Ueno and help you find out more about its history and culture.

The museum is the largest in Japan and houses 87 national treasures as well as 634 cultural assets. You’ll see how Japanese art has changed over time from the use of clay to the many Buddhist and samurai arts.


  • the museum comprises around 114,000 items, including 87 National Treasuries
  • The best collection includes 634 Important Cultural Properties as well
  • Japanese garden with tea house from the museum is also beautiful.
  • Samurai armor, sword, Ukiyoe, Buddhist sculpture are very popular

Learn more and sign up here (in English)

Ukiyo-e, often translated as “pictures of the floating world,” refers to Japanese paintings and woodblock prints that originally depicted the cities’ pleasure districts during the Edo Period, when the sensual attributes of life were encouraged amongst a tranquil existence under the peaceful rule of the Shoguns. These idyllic narratives not only document the leisure activities and climate of the era, they also depict the decidedly Japanese aesthetics of beauty, poetry, nature, spirituality, love, and sex. —TheArtStory