Japanese prints of the floating world (ukiyo-e) trace their origins to many influences. Perhaps the foremost factor was the lifestyle that emerged following the great fire of 1657, in which 100,000 Tokyo residents perished and vast portions of the city were destroyed. Just a few years later, in 1665, the writer Asai Ryoi described the floating world as “living only for the moment, turning our full attention to the pleasures of the moon, the snow, the cherry blossoms and the maples, singing songs, drinking wine, and diverting ourselves just in floating, floating, caring not a whit for the poverty staring us in the face." It therefore seems that the calamity of 1657 changed the mind and spirit of the country. It was in this atmosphere that ukiyo-e developed. Seventeenth-century prints and paintings of women wearing elaborate kimonos appealed to the townsmen’s sense of fashion and style. Kabuki actors and their hedonistic existence were exciting. Courtesans played a significant role in a society that accepted and even worshiped them. The printed image was a convenient way to give the people what they wanted, and it was commercially viable to produce images that the townsmen could keep as mementos. Single-sheet prints like those on display here were only one form of the printed image. Floating world novels and critiques of actors and courtesans were published in large editions. Single-sheet prints that glorified the theater and the pleasure quarters or recalled ancient myths and legends were published and distributed. A large audience developed and ukiyo-e flourished and retained its appeal for almost 200 years. This exhibition features about 35 of the earliest ukiyo-e prints in the Art Institute's collection dating from the late 17th to the first half of the 18th century and includes many of the collection's most famous works.