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 ourselves in just floating, floating;
caring not a whit for the pauperism staring us in the face, refusing to be disheartened
. . . this is what we call the
floating world . . .” (Ryoi, c.1661)
The term “floating world” had its origins in a Buddhist expression
that referred to the transitory and illusionary nature of the world.
By the 17th century, the peace and stability of the Edo period
brought about an unprecedented prosperity and pursuit of leisure.
The floating world gradually took on hedonistic implications.
It came to encompass the world of stylish men and women, actors and pleasures
of the flesh. In the Moon series, Yoshitoshi follows a long tradition of
woodblock print artists in depicting the sorrow, irreverence and eroticism of
In this world, the high-class courtesan was at the apex of social activity. Courtesans represented the ideal of beauty, dignity, elegance and artistic accomplishment. In fact, the best female roles given to actors in the Kabuki theater were those of the high-class prostitute and the brothels served as a key setting in almost every play. The women of the pleasure quarters shared a close relationship with the actors of the popular Kabuki theater. The rituals and performances of both were governed by strict codes of behavior designed to support a world of fantasy and the survival of both depended on the cultivation of wealthy patrons.