Ukiyo, the Floating World


Ukiyo Monogatari (“Tales of the Floating World“) by Asai Ryōi (1662).

“Living only for the moment, savoring the moon, the snow, the cherry blossoms, and the maple leaves, singing songs, drinking sake, and diverting oneself just in floating, unconcerned by the prospect of imminent poverty, buoyant and carefree, like a gourd carried along the river current: this is what we call ukiyo.”

Ukiyo-e (literally “pictures of the floating world”) is the name given to popular paintings and prints (scenes from history, folk tales, cities, travels, nature, landscapes and erotica) during the Edo period in Japan. It's a composite term of uki (floating), yo (world), and e (pictures).

Today, Ukiyo is a state of mind still present in Japan of the third millennium. This is a land in which the humanization of the landscape has reached its highest expression and where we can see the impact of modernity on a country that had managed to avoid cross-cultural contamination by the rest of the world for centuries. A traveller plunged into the reality of Japan is dazed. The blend between thousand-year-old traditions and cutting-edge contemporary life produces a unique vibration: the continual sensation of walking a tightrope between two completely different realities and keeping one’s balance.

My work wants to be a tribute to the wonderful land of Ukiyo. I have chosen to portray this by means of a brief narrative about the natural and urban landscape, a story in which man may be absent from the scene, but is fully present in terms of his achievements and his choices. Clear images (Shiro 白) and dark images (Kuro 黒) appear to be two distant universes, yet they are linked by a strong bond whose roots are to be found in the legacy of a thousand- year-old culture, ranging from popular art to a profound respect for mankind and nature.