Ukiyo-e, stylistic school in Japanese painting and, especially, colored woodblock prints. The Ukiyo-e, or "floating-world," style was so called because it portrayed the shifting fashions and unstable lives of common people and of actors, courtesans, and other inhabitants of the amusement district of Edo (Tokyo).
The style coincides with the prosperous Edo period, from 1603 to 1867, when commoners could afford to buy moderately priced works of art. The painter and book illustrator Moronobu Hishikawa founded the Ukiyo-e school with his hand-colored prints. He adapted traditional painting techniques to the medium of the woodblock print and revolutionized the art of the print.
Ukiyo-e reached artistic maturity after the advent, in the 1740s, of the true color print, in which 2 or 3 (and by the 1760s, up to 20 or 30) separate woodblocks were used to color a single print with impressive subtlety. By 1800 the style had reached a peak with the brilliantly skillful work of the artist and actor Toshukai Sharaku, who specialized in prints of actors, and Utamaro, who depicted women in all situations of life, including their occupations and leisure activities. In the 19th century the last generation of Ukiyo-e artists turned to landscapes.