Ukiyo (浮世 "Floating World") described the urban lifestyle, especially the pleasure-seeking aspects, of Edo-period Japan. The "Floating World" culture developed in Yoshiwara, the licensed red-light district of Edo (modern Tokyo), which was the site of many brothels, chashitsu tea houses, and kabuki theaters frequented by Japan's growing middle class. The ukiyo culture also arose in other cities such as Osaka and Kyoto. The famous Japanese woodblock prints known as ukiyo-e, or "pictures of the Floating World", had their origins in these districts and often depicted scenes of the Floating World itself such as geisha, kabuki actors, sumo wrestlers, samurai, chōnin and prostitutes.
The term is also an ironic allusion to the homophone "Sorrowful World" (憂き世), the earthly plane of death and rebirth from which Buddhists sought release.