Living for Pleasure

The world began to float in 1603, when Tokugawa Ieyasu vanquished his rivals to become shogun of Japan, ushering in more than two centuries of peace, prosperity and rigid social stratification. Lowest of the official classes were the merchantsólower even than farmers and artisans, who at least produced something. That was fine with the merchants. They were getting rich. Besides, a new world was being created for them, one that offered more interesting diversions than political power.

That new realm is the subject of a dazzling exhibition at Paris' Grand Palais. "Images du Monde Flottant" (Images of the...

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