Edo culture saw the living side by side of both the rich and poor in Japanese society. This gave rise to a different point view in interpreting nature which with the combination of the principles taught in Zen Buddhism gave rise to the aesthetic values which characterized Japanese art. These values of suggestion, irregularity, simplicity and perishability, as Donald Keene identified them.
Suggestion or yugen is the characteristic wherein the artist suggests a hint of nature. There is no idealization of the subject but connotes a suggestion of what it is in relation to what it truly is. The artwork gives an indication of reality and does not capture the subject in its real form.
Zen Buddhism influence is reflected in Japanese aesthetics through austerity and simplicity in presentation. Perishability captures the very essence of life and nature, showing the impermanence and sadness that pervades its reality. All these elements are brought to together to constitute the Japanese measure of aesthetics in all its art forms, from painting, literature, architecture, pottery, to wood block prints. Even the tea ceremony as a Buddhist ritual is influenced by the tenets of these aesthetic building blocks which form Japanese culture.
Edo culture had a great influence in the development and adoption of these aesthetic cornerstones. A great fire suffered by the city brought about the popularity of wood print blocks or ukiyo-e. Ukiyo-e in general is the stylized school in Japanese painting especially prints using colored wood blocks. Ukiyo-e gained popularity as an affordable means of acquiring art, especially among the middle class population of Edo. The Ukiyo-e style was described as a “floating world” because it describes the instability of common people’s lives. It often portrayed ordinary people, actors, courtesans, vendors, and the like.
A woodblock print by Kuryosai Isoda depict a “kamuro” or courtesan in the middle of two other