Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Floating World - Ukiyo

Originally, the "ukiyo" (Japanese: 浮世 "Floating World") was a Buddhist term describing the transient nature and suffering that defines our earthly existence.

'Ukiyo' is a little word that conjures up the entire worldview of Buddhism, which is this: human existence, is too temporary to get yourself attached to it so much.

In other words, 'ukiyo' is 'the fleeting world'. It is also an allusion to the homophone "Sorrowful World" (憂き世), the earthly plane of death and rebirth from which Buddhists sought release.

This world.

Later Ukiyo described the urban life style, especially the pleasure-seeking aspects, of Edo Period Japan (1600–1867).

This view of the Floating World is centered on Yoshiwara, the licensed red-light district of Edo (modern Tokyo). The area's brothels, teahouses and kabuki theaters were frequented by Japan's growing middle class. This particular Floating World culture also arose in other cities such as Osaka and Kyoto.

The famous Japanese woodblock prints known as ukiyo-e, or "pictures of the Floating World", depict scenes of the Floating World: geisha, kabuki actors, sumo wrestlers, samurai, chōnin and prostitutes.

The contemporary novelist Asai Ryōi, in his Ukiyo monogatari ("Tales of the Floating World", c. 1661), provides some insight into the concept of the floating world:

... Living only for the moment, turning our full attention to the pleasures of the moon, the snow, the cherry blossoms and the maple leaves; singing songs, drinking wine, diverting outselvies in just floating, floating; ... refusing to be disheartened, like a gourd floating along with the river current: this is what we call the floating world...


  1. Thus shall you think of this fleeting world:
    A star at dawn, a bubble in a stream,
    A flash of lightning in a summer cloud,
    A flickering lamp, a phantom, and a dream.