Glossary of ukiyo-e terms


Abuna-e: a “dangerous picture” that is suggestive, but not explicitly erotic.  The first image in a series of shunga prints is often an abuna-e.

Ai: blue pigment extracted from indigo leaves and combined with kiô to make green

Aiban: a print size about 13 by 9 inches (34.5 by 22.5 centimeters)

Aizuri-e: prints printed entirely or primarily in blue

aka-e: a print entirely or predominantly in red, said to protect against smallpox

Ama: a fisher-woman who specialized in diving for abalone (awabi)

Aratame: “examined” in seal form used as a censorship mark on prints, 1849-51, 1854-7, and 1859 onwards (combined with date)

Arhat: in Buddhism, one who has attained enlightenment

Ashigaru: the lowest rank of feudal retainer

Asobi-e: playful (humorous) pictures

Atozuri: Printings subsequent to the first printing made from the original unaltered woodblocks.  Has the same meaning as Nochizuri

Awabi: abalone

Baiyaku-e: medical prints

Banzuke: program or play bill

Beni: red or pink pigment extracted from safflower

Benigara (or bengara): brown pigment made from rust called “Bengal red” or “Indian red” in English

Bero-ai (or bero): synthetic blue pigment known as “Prussian blue” or “Hiroshige blue” in English

Bijin: beautiful woman

Bijin-ga: prints of beautiful women

Biwa: a four-stringed instrument shaped like a flat-backed lute

Blind printing: an uninked woodblock is used to press a raised design into the paper, also known as embossing, gauffrage, and karazuri

Bokashi: the gradual shading of color achieved by hand-applying a gradation of ink to the wooden printing block rather than inking the block uniformly.  This hand-application had to be repeated for each sheet of paper that was printed.

Bonji: debased and formalized Sanskrit characters signifying Buddhist divinities

Bonsai: artificially dwarfed trees in pots, sometimes of great age and value

Bugaku: ancient court dances performed in masks

Cartouche: enclosed area, usually in the upper part of a print, containing the title of a print with or without some additional information

Castle-toppler: a courtesan of the highest rank, also called an “oiran

Chidori: plovers or wave-birds

Chirimen-gami-e: a print in which many fine creases were made with a mechanical device; literally “compressed thread paper print” and rendered in English as “crepe print”

Chôban: a print size about 20 by 8 inches (50 by 20 centimeters) also known as nagaban

Chûban: a print size about 7 by 10 inches (18 by 25 centimeters)

Chûshingura: the most famous of the Japanese tales of revenge    

Chûtanzakuban (or chû-tanzaku): a print size about 14 by 5 inches (36 by 13 centimeters)

Daimyô: a great lord, head of a feudal clan

Dai ôban: “double ôban”, a single sheet print about 13.75 by 18.25 inches (34.5 by 45.5 centimeters)

Degatari-zu: prints showing actors in front of chanters and musicians

: copper, used as a powder to produce a gold color

Edition: all the copies of a print produced in a single printing

Edo: old name for Tokyo, the city where most ukiyo-e was produced

Edo Period: period of Japanese history between 1603 (when the Shôgun took up residence in Edo) until 1868 (when the Shogunate was overthrown in favor of the emperor)

Egoyomi: print containing information about the long (31 days) and short (30 days) months in a specific year

Ehon: an illustrated book

Enpaku: inorganic white pigment, lead carbonate

Floating world: literal translation of “ukiyo

Fûkei-ga: landscape prints

Fûzoku-ga (or Fûzoku-e): genre prints

Ga: “drawn by” or “painted by”, often found at the end of a signature

Gauffrage: an uninked woodblock is used to press a raised design into the paper, also known as embossing or blind printing

Geisha: a girl trained to entertain with music, dancing and conversation

Genji-mon: a set of 54 rectilinear heraldic devices, each representing one of the chapters of the romance of Prince Genji

Giga (or giga-e): comic prints

Go: a complicated game somewhat like checkers

: an additional art-name

Gofun: white pigment made from ground seashells

Green houses: brothels

Gohei: a wand with strips of cut paper attached, a Shinto divine symbol

Gunjô: blue pigment known as “azurite” in English

Hakama: long and very wide trousers worn on ceremonial occasions

Hanshita-e: final drawing for a print

Haori: a coat, especially a military surcoat worn over armor

Harimaze: a print having several images intended to be cut apart, sometimes designed by different artists

Hashira-e: “pillar print”, about 28 by 4.5 inches (73 by 13 centimeters)

Hibachi: a domestic brazier

Hikifuda: advertising prints

Hinin: a criminal, beggar or social outcast

Hitsu: “drawn by” or “written by”, often found at the end of a signature

Hodoyoshi: pseudonym used by Kuniyoshi.  Hodoyoshi (程芳) is sometimes pronounced Hodomoyoshi.

Hoko: an early form of spearhead with a laterally projecting point

Hôsô-e: smallpox prints, prints primarily or entirely in red said to protect against smallpox

Hosoban: a print size, mostly abandoned by Kuniyoshi’s time, about 13 by 5 inches (33 by 14.5 centimeters)

Hyôtan ashi: “gourd legs” or exadurated musculature

Ihan: a late impression of a print made from altered or repaired woodblocks

Ireki: Wooden plug use to alter a woodblock

Iroha: the Japanese syllabary embodied in a poem of 47 syllables

Ishizuri-e: print that mimics a stone rubbing, usually uninked figures or text on a black background

Jôge-e: "two-way pictures", prints that can be viewed either rightside-up or upside-down

Jôruri: A short play with puppets or actors accompanied by a chanted ballad and shamisen

Jûmonji: the cross-shaped character for the number ten

Jûnishi: the twelve signs of the zodiac

Kabuki: a popular form of Japanese theater frequently depicted in ukiyo-e prints

Kachô-e: “pictures of birds and flowers”, but often used for all nature prints

Kage-e: shadow or silhouette prints

Kago: a palanquin or sedan-chair

Kakemono: a hanging scroll-picture, so kakemono-e, a vertical diptych or triptych designed to be mounted and hung as a kakemono

Kakihan: a hand seal or personal heraldic device, equivalent to the French word “paraphe

Kamigata-e: prints from the region including the cities of Kobe, Kyoto and Osaka

Kamuro: (禿 or かむろ) young girl apprenticed to a brothel

Kana: the Japanese characters representing the syllables of the iroha, often written alongside the kanji characters to indicate correct pronunciation

Kanadehon Chûshingura: the most popular of al kabuki plays

Kappa: a river-sprite

Kappazuri-e: stencil prints

Karako: boys (or dolls of boys) in ancient Chinese dress

Karazuri: an uninked woodblock is used to press a raised design into the paper, also known as embossing, gauffrage, and blind printing

Ken: a hand game something like rock-paper-scissors

Ken no e: prints depiction the game of ken

Kentô: registration marks carver into each woodblock so that the paper can be properly aligned on each woodblock during printing

Kesa: a Buddhist priest’s robe worn slung across the shoulder

Keyblock print (kyôgô or kyôgozuri-e): an impression pulled from the first woodblock made by a carver (omohan or sumihan) from the artist’s original drawing.  The artist would write instructions for each color on a separate key block print, and the woodblock for each color was cut using one of these as a guide.  In addition to being a guide for carving the color woodblocks, the key block was also used to apply black ink (usually) in the final printing process.

Kihada: yellow pigment derived from the cork tree

Kimono: general word for a garment, or clothing

Kira: the pearly colored mineral mica

Kiô: inorganic yellow pigment made from arsenic trisulphide and combined with ai to make green

Kiri seal: paulownia flower seal used by Kuniyoshi

Kiwame: “approved” in seal form used as a censorship mark on prints before 1842

Koban: a print size about 7 by 5 inches (18 by 13 centimeters)

Kogatana: a small knife carried in a slot in the sword-scabbard

Komochi-e: a “trick picture”–a print with a flap or other moveable part

Komusô: a samurai in temporary disgrace, usually represented with a shakuhachi (bamboo flute) and a deep straw hat concealing his face

Kotanzakuban (or ko-tanzaku): a print size about 14 by 2.5 inches (36 by 6 centimeters)

Koto: a musical instrument consisting of a long sounding-box over which strings are stretched, each with its separate bridge, and plucked with plectra attached to the player’s fingers

Koyomi: calendar

Kusudama: a hanging scented ball of artificial flowers with streamers

Meishô: Famous places

Mempô: an armor mask or visor

Mimizu-gaki: “worm scribbles” or tortuous lines

Mitate: a parody or imaginary scene, such as actors in a play who never actually appeared together on stage in those roles

Mokugyo: a hollow wooden fish-shaped gong struck by Buddhist priests

Mokume-zuri: visible wood grain

Mon: although usually translated as “crest” or “family crest”, heraldic device is more accurate

Musha-e: warrior prints

Nagaban: a print size about 20 by 8 inches (50 by 20 centimeters) also known as chôban

Naginata: a pole-arm with a long curved blade; a glaive

Namazu-e: print depicting a giant catfish, said to protect against earthquakes

Nanori: the official name of a Japanese person, such as “Yoshitsune

Nehanzu: prints and paintings of the nehan (death of Buddha)

Nishiki-e: multicolored prints or “brocade pictures”, (This term does not apply to hand painted prints.)

Nochizuri: Printings subsequent to the first printing made from the original unaltered woodblocks.  Has the same meaning as Atozuri

Nodachi: a very long sword carried across the back

Noh (or ): Japanese classical dance-drama rarely depicted in ukiyo-e prints of the Edo Period

Nyûgin mono (入銀 ): sponsored print, commissioned by a poet, poetry group or business

Ôdo: an inorganic yellow pigment called “yellow ochre” in English

Ôban: the standard print size, about 14 by 10 inches (36 by 25 centimeters)

Obi: lady’s silk brocade sash

Oiran: a courtesan of the highest rank, also called “castle-toppler”

Ôkubi-e: close-up prints of actors’ heads or busts

Omocha-e: prints intended to be cut-up and played with (toy prints)

Oni: a small malicious horned demon

Onnagata: male kabuki actor playing a female role

Osaka: the city second to Edo (Tokyo) in the production of ukiyo-e

Ôtanzakuban (or ô-tanzaku): a print size about 14 by 6.5 inches (36 by 17 centimeters)

Otokodate: chivalrous townsmen who championed the oppressed

Raijû: a fabulous beast of vaguely canine appearance, said to come to earth with thunderbolts

Rakan: a disciple of Buddha

Rimbô: the Buddhist “wheel of the law”, originally a Hindu weapon

Rokurokubi: female goblin with a long flexible necks

Rokushô: malachite, an inorganic green pigment

Rônin: a samurai without a feudal lord, especially one of the 47 rônin in the Chûshingura revenge story, literally “wave man”

Saihai: a general’s baton, with large tassel of cut paper attached, used in directing troops

Sake: Japanese rice wine often heated before drinking

Samisen: a three-stringed banjo-like instrument, played with a large plectrum

Samurai: a member of the warrior class, similar to a European nobleman

Sashimono: a flag attached to the back of the armor to facilitate recognition in battle

Senjafuda (or sensha fuda): privately published votive slips

Sekiô: inorganic yellow pigment made from arsenic trisulphide and combined with ai to make green

Sennin: an “Immortal” or saintly recluse

Seppuku: the formal method of suicide by cutting open the abdomen; hara-kiri is a vulgar synonym

Shakuhachi: a bamboo flute or pipe, blown at the end, and slightly curved

Shikake-e: a print having a paper flap that can be lifted to reveal a different picture, such as another costume or a sex act.

Shikishiban: a print size about 8 by 7 inches (21 by 18 centimeters) often used for surimono

Shimenawa: a rope with tufts of cut paper at intervals, hung round Shinto shrines and other places to confer sanctity

Shinchû-kin: brass, used as a powder to produce a gold color

Shini-e: memorial print for a deceased person (death print)

Shinka: a “spirit flame”―a flame indicating the presence of a ghost or other supernatural manifestation

Shiô: inorganic yellow pigment made from arsenic trisulphide and combined with ai to make green

Shirabyôshi: court dancing-girls in medieval times, distinguished by a white robe, court cap, sword and gohei

Shirazaya: sheath and hilt of plain white wood in which sword blades were kept when not in use

Shita-e: preparatory drawing for a print

Shita-uri seal: oval seal on some actor prints dating from the 1st month of 1850 to the 3rd month of 1853.  Shita-uri (シタ賣) translates as "low sale", but its real meaning is not understood.

Shôgun: military ruler of Japan during the Kamakura and Edo periods

Shôji: window or sliding door covered with paper

Shomenzuri: polishing or burnishing on the surface of a print

Shozuri: early impression from the first state of a print

Shu: red pigment made from mercuric sulfide also called “vermillion” or “cinnabar”

Shunga: erotic prints, usually very explicit

Sode: an armor shoulder-piece

State: one of the versions of a print showing a deliberate alteration in the design or color

Sumizuri-e: prints entirely in black ink

Sumi: black ink

Sumô: traditional Japanese form of wrestling

Surimono: a print (often about 8 by 7 inches or 21 by 18 centimeters) on superior paper and exhibiting much technical refinement, used in the same circumstances as our greetings card

Syozuri: The first printing, usually about 200 prints

Tachi: a long sword mounted to be slung from the belt

Taibi: “big tail” often used instead of a number to identify the last print of a series

Taisha: brown pigment made from rust called “brown ochre” in English

Tameshizuri-e: a black outline print sold cheaply to be colored by the purchaser. These are usually on thick paper, unlike keyblock prints, which were printed on a thin inexpensive paper. Tameshizuri-e are often misidentified as keyblock prints (kyôgozuri-e).

Tan: red ink made from red lead

Tanzaku: a long strip of paper

Tate: a rectangular wooden shield often set up for protection by troops in defensive positions

Tatebanko: an omocha-e (toy print) designed to be cut up to make a three-dimensional diorama

Tate-e: a print in vertical or “portrait” format

Tengu: a birdlike wood-sprite

Torii: “bird rest”; a wooden archway found outside Shinto shrines, and originally a perch for birds dedicated to the gods

Toshidama seal: seal used by Kuniyoshi until the mid-1840s

Tsuba: a sword-guard, usually of circular or oval form

Tsudzumi: a hand-drum having an hour-glass shaped body

Tsuyukusa: a fugitive blue pigment derived from the petals of the dayflower

Uchiwa: a non-folding fan with bamboo framework, or a print made to be pasted on such a fan (about 9 by 10 inches or 23 by 25.5 centimeters)

Uke-e: print depicting an auspicious subject

Ukiyo-e: “pictures of the floating world”, a school of Japanese art that flourished from about 1660 to 1900

Ukon: a fugitive yellow pigment derived from the tumeric plant

Wakana: young greens

Wani: a crocodile or sea-monster

Yakusha-e: actor prints

Yamabuki: the yellow rose (Kerria japonica)

Yamabushi: a warrior-monk (literally “sleeping in the mountains”)

Yaso-e: “gather together pictures”; large pictures composed of many small pictures 

Yoko-e: a print in horizontal or “landscape” format

Yoshi kiri seal: paulownia flower seal used by Kuniyoshi

Zumi: a mustard-yellow pigment derived from the cherry apple