Take a look at a Van Gogh masterpiece and you may spot a cherry blossom or two.
"To some extent all my work is based on Japanese art," Vincent Van Gogh wrote to his brother on July 15, 1888.
The artist had a personal collection of hundreds of Japanese works, and their influence on him is evident when you put some of his paintings alongside certain ukiyo-e, or woodcut prints, a genre that originated in the Edo period (1600s-1860s).
Ukiyo, a word from Buddhist sutra, means floating world, and ukiyo-e works reflect various aspects of everyday life in Japan over 400 years.
When American ships berthed in Yokohama, the port city south of Tokyo, in the late 1850s, it signaled that after 200 years of isolation Japan had opened its trading doors to the rest of the world. That trade would include works of art, and thus the wonders of ukiyo-e's floating world were scattered to the four winds.
What makes ukiyo-e stand in stark relief to other Japanese art forms such as kabuki and noh opera is its earthiness and utter straightforwardness.
"Ukiyo-e is about what you see, what you hear and what you think," said Yukiko Takahashi, the sixth-generation inheritor of the Takahashi family, which specializes in woodblock prints.
"It reflects what people pursued and what was popular at that time."
At first ukiyo-e works, which were then known as sumi-e, or ink-wash painting, were black and white. Later, with the import of pigment, sumi-e developed into esoushi.
There were three basic steps in producing a ukiyo-e piece: drawing, engraving and coloring.
"One work used about 20 to 30 different colors, and white was not used, keeping down the cost," Takahashi said. "A ukiyo-e piece costs about a bowl of soba noodles."
The art form developed through different forms and media, including posters, newspapers, magazines and comic books.
In an exhibition of ukiyo-e now on at 798 Art Zone in Beijing visitors can view more than 100 pieces as well as the tools for making ukiyo-e. Thirty of the works on display are originals of the Edo period.
The exhibition is divided into three sections. The first is about the real world and daily life. It displays drawings of beautiful women, sumo wrestlers, geisha and scenes of daily life.
The second is about nature, and among the works are Kanagawa Okinamiura, or the Great Wave, by Hokusai Katsushika, perhaps the best-known ukiyo-e piece, and Tokaido Gojusansaitsugi, or 53 stations of the East Coast Line from Hiroshige Utagawa.
The third section is about the unreal, portraying monsters, fantastical animals and Japanese folklore.
Given that these artworks are prints, a question raised is how many of each was made. In the case of the Great Wave, the BBC television series A History of the World in 100 Objects said as many as 8,000 may have been produced. Thousands of those would no doubt have been lost or destroyed in the nearly two centuries since the first print was made, and exactly how many of those survived is unclear.
Even though ukiyo-e is considered a Japanese art form, it has close connections with Chinese art. During the late Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), China and Japan largely closed their doors to one another, but trade continued between the port city of Nagasaki, in southwestern Japan, and Ningbo, in what is today Zhejiang province.
Chinese woodblock prints and ink-wash painting were then introduced to Japan, and they had a profound influence on the way ukiyo-e developed. In fact some ukiyo-e works portrayed famous Chinese stories such as Romance of The Three Kingdoms.
Perhaps not surprisingly, given the fame of Kanagawa Okinamiura, Hokusai Katsushika is one of the most well-known exponents of ukiyo-e. The revered Mount Fuji appears in that work and 35 others he did as part of a series. In 2017 a print of Kanagawa Okinamiura sold at auction at Christie's in New York for $940,000.
Another well-known ukiyo-e artist is Hiroshige Utagawa, a contemporary of Katsushika.
"Comparing the two, I prefer the poetic beauty of Utagawa's works," said Dong Bingyue, a researcher with the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.
"You can see and feel the artistic conception of poetry of the Tang Dynasty (618-907) in Hiroshige's works."
Hiroshige was widely known as tabinoshijin, or poet of the journey.
Other works featured in the exhibition include yakusha-e, or paintings of actors, by Sharaku Toshusai, and bijin-e, paintings of beauty, by Utamaro Kitagawa.
As a consequence of the development of modern printing technology and photography, the market for ukiyo-e has waned in recent years.
The curator of the 798 Art Zone exhibition, Cheng Pengzi, said: "Through this exhibition, we are keen to arouse the interest of visitors from wherever they come to the inheritance and development of traditional handicraft, respecting craftsmanship and safeguarding our heritage."