Embark on a journey through time with the stunning Utagawa Kuniyoshi prints. Download these captivating masterpieces of Japanese art for free and immerse yourself in the rich cultural tapestry of Edo, Japan.
There are moments in life that leave an indelible mark on our hearts and minds, and for me, it was an encounter with the grace and beauty of Japanese culture at the “Kimono: Kyoto To Catwalk” exhibition at the V&A Museum. I was enthralled as I walked through the exhibition halls with exquisite kimonos. Each fabric whispered stories of a bygone era and the artistry woven through generations.
Then, as I turned a corner, I stumbled upon a series of Utagawa Kuniyoshi prints. These weren’t kimonos, but the sheer energy and dynamism in these prints were electric. The fierce samurai, ethereal landscapes, and intriguing characters seemed to leap out of the paper. I was particularly drawn to a print depicting a warrior clad in an elaborately designed kimono. The details were astounding; Kuniyoshi had breathed life into the fabric within a two-dimensional frame!
I walked out of the V&A Museum that day with my head in a whirlwind of colors, figures, and stories. The kimonos and Kuniyoshi’s art had touched a chord within me. I felt an unwavering desire to share this treasure trove with others.
And so, here we are. I’ve assembled a collection of Utagawa Kuniyoshi prints that are an ode to an extraordinary artist and a bridge to a fascinating culture. These prints are available for free download and in the Public Domain.
Who Was Utagawa Kuniyoshi
Utagawa Kuniyoshi was a Japanese artist who lived during the Edo period, which stretched from the early 17th century to the mid-19th century. Kuniyoshi was a master of ukiyo-e, a genre of art that translates to “pictures of the floating world”. These woodblock prints and paintings often depicted themes ranging from sumptuous landscapes and dramatic theatre scenes to beautiful courtesans and daring samurai.
Kuniyoshi was mainly celebrated for his warrior prints. His depictions of samurai, often embroiled in battle or heroically posed, were visually stunning and embodied the courage and code of honour central to the samurai culture. His vivid colours, dynamic compositions, and attention to detail breathed life into these formidable characters.
But the allure of Utagawa Kuniyoshi’s art doesn’t stop with warriors. He was also a whimsical storyteller. Delightful pieces in his repertoire allude to Japanese folklore, mythology, and the supernatural. He had a knack for infusing humour into his work, and some of his pieces can be seen as precursors to modern manga.
What is Ukiyo-e
Ukiyo-e (pronounced oo-kee-yo-eh) translates to “pictures of the floating world.” The term “floating world” here is like a metaphor for everyday life’s pleasures and ephemerality. Back then, people were all about living in the moment – thinking of enjoying the beauty of cherry blossoms, attending a Kabuki theatre, or maybe indulging in some sushi at a bustling marketplace.
So, how did they capture these fleeting moments? With Ukiyo-e, of course! These were woodblock prints and paintings that gave a snapshot of Japan’s daily life and culture during the Edo period. The prints are often bold and vibrant, and the details are delicious!
Ukiyo-e didn’t just depict everyday life; they were like the Instagram of the Edo period. Everything from famous actors, beautiful geishas, and sumo wrestlers to folklore and landscapes found their way onto these prints. They were also super trendy – you could find them in shops, tea houses, and pretty much anywhere.
Ukiyo-e had a significant influence on Western art. When these prints made their way to Europe in the late 19th century, they influenced the art nouveau and Impressionist movement, and even today, you can see their echoes in modern art and pop culture.
How To Download The Utagawa Kuniyoshi Prints
These vintage Japanese woodcut prints of Utagawa Kuniyoshi are all in the Public Domain. Which means you are free to print and use them as you wish.
Just click on the title of the Japanese woodcut print you want to download. A large copy of the image will open in a new tab on your device. If you right-click on that print, you can save it to your hard drive.
Woodblock Prints 1-10
The title of this print translates as “The Courtesan Usugumo of Tama-ya“. One of Utagawa Kuniyoshi’s later Japanese woodcut prints dated 1830.
Cherry blossoms are very symbolic in Japanese art and culture. It’s the blossom’s beauty and transience which associates them with mortality and graceful and readily acceptance of destiny and karma.
Bando Mitsugoro was a Kabuki actor. Kabuki is a classical Japanese dance-drama.
The next three Japanese woodcut prints are part of the same series and displayed together as one.
This is another woodblock print of a Japanese actor.
A traditional Japanese ukiyo-e style illustration of an actor Mimasu Gennosuke in the role of Naniwa Jirosaku.
Woodblock Prints 11-20
A scene from act 7 of the play Kanadehon Chūshingura showing Onoe Baikō IV in a female role as Okaru (left) imploring Sawamura Sōjūrō V as Ōboshi Yuranosuke (right), a Kudayū crouched in hiding behind them.
The actor Tamaya Yoji.
Another Japanese actor woodcut print.
In Japanese culture, the Akkorokamui is a gigantic octopus-like monster from Ainu folklore, equivalent to the Nordic Kraken, which supposedly lurks in Funka Bay in Hokkaido. It is said that its enormous body can reach sizes of up to 33 meters (108 feet) in length.
The great 12th-century general Taira no Tomomori ties himself to an anchor to die by his hand and not from enemy action as defeat nears in the famous sea battle at Dan-no-Ura (1185). In “The Tale of Genji,” Lady Murasaki insists on making arrangements for her funeral rites as her death approaches.
The Kabuki actor Bando Shuka I in a female role as Kosan (left) tucking some papers into her robe, and Ichikawa Danjuro VIII as Kingoro (right) seated in the background, from the kabuki play Kosan Kingoro, performed at the Nakamura theatre in the ninth month of Kaei 3 (1850).
This woodcut print is titled hare as there are a circle of hares (rabbits) in the top left corner.
An unidentified actor as Iwanaga Souren (left), with red make-up, sitting under a banner with a paulownia leaf crest, and an unknown actor as the courtesan Akoya (right) wearing a robe decorated with a Chinese lion.
You will notice a goat in the top left corner, hence the title of this print.
If you check there are some cats playing in the top left corner Japanese woodcut print.
You will find more tiger drawings and art here.
Nachi Falls is one of the best-known waterfalls in Japan. With a drop of 133 meters (and 13 meters wide), it is the country’s tallest waterfall with a single uninterrupted drop.
The Sumida River is a river that flows through central Tokyo, Japan. It branches from the Arakawa River at Iwabuchi and flows into Tokyo Bay.
(This image was used for the DIY tea light lanterns craft)
“During the civil conflict of 1159, known as the Heiji Rebellion, the father of Yoshitsunewho was to grow into one of Japan’s most celebrated samurai heroes, was killed. In the wake of this tragedy, the boy’s mother escaped with him and his two brothers to the mountains during a snowstorm.
In this heartrending scene, the artist Kuniyoshi conveys the woman’s strength and maternal tenderness as she leans against the wind. The tiny shoes of the toddlers she protects are visible under her cloak. One of the boys would grow to become the founder of the Kamakura Shogunate and the other, Yoshitsune, would famously defend the honour of the Minamoto clan.”
Nichiren was a Japanese Buddhist priest of the Kamakura period (1185–1333), who developed the teachings of Nichiren Buddhism.