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Artisans at Work

During the early years of the Tokugawa era, artisans provided services to inhabitants of the daimyo castles throughout Japan. As the peace endured, cities sprang up around the castles, and with them, an increasingly prosperous artisan and merchant class that supplied the burgeoning townsmen (chonin). As community support for culture grew, the arts and entertainment flourished.

An early school of art to emerge in the Edo period was Ukiyo-e (pictures of the floating world), which depicted landscapes and celebrated life in the entertainment centers. Ukiyo-e prints, albums, book illustrations and greeting cards immortalized famous Kabuki actors and brothel beauties, and were popular among the middle classes.

One of the most influential Ukiyo-e artists was Kitagawa Utamaro (1753 - 1806), known for his woodblock depictions of beautiful women from Edo's pleasure quarters. In the early 1800s, Hokusai, (1760 - 1849) a designer of book covers and billboards, became famous for his landscapes. His "Thirty-Six Views of Mt. Fuji" includes "The Wave" (as it is known in the West), perhaps the most widely known Ukiyo-e print in the world.

Ando Hiroshige (1797 -1858) infused woodblock printing with brush painting techniques. In 1832, Hiroshige traveled from Edo to Kyoto on the Tokaido Road, which inspired his famous woodblock print series "Fifty-Three Stations of the Tokaido Road."

Top: Artisans at work/National Museum of Ethnology, Leiden.
Right: Carving a woodblock/Goldfarb-Plug-In

Carving a woodblock

Artisans were part of the "komin" caste, below samurai and farmers, although they were also frequently grouped with merchants as "chonin" (townspeople).

woodlbock print

Learn how these distinctive prints are created


Hear the distinctive sounds of Edo culture

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