Of medieval Buddhist origin, the term ukiyo indicated the condition of impermanence created by everyday life with all its worldly attachments, which it was wise to resist, since they were a source of constant pain. In short, ukiyo indicated the world (yo) of suffering (uki). In the 17th Century, however, this meaning was completely reversed and an identical word, with the ‘suffering’ character changed into the symbol for ‘floating’, but also pronounced uki, came to be used to enhance those same fleeting pleasures of festivity, fashion, the world of entertainment, illecit love and secret passion – the very attachments, in fact, that Buddhist doctrine warned against. These fleeting pleasures are portrayed in all their aspects in the images (e) of the floating world, ukiyo-e, found in paintings, screens, illustrated books, elaborate commemorative and greetings cards and, above all, the prints that 19th-Century French artists drew so much inspiration from.
Such was the world of Edo (Tokyo) in the 17th to 19th centuries, depicted in 82 masterworks of ukiyo-e ("pictures of the floating world") paintings on display in this exhibition---a world of flamboyant kabuki actors, graceful geisha clad in the finest and most delicate kimonos of the day, elaborate tea ceremonies and evenings filled with music, theatre and fashion.
Royal Ontario Museum Web Site
Click here for a Culturekiosque art review of Ukiyo painting of the Floating World.