Woodblock prints were initially used as early as the eighth century in Japan to disseminate texts, especially Buddhist scriptures In 1765, new technology made it possible to produce single-sheet prints in a whole range of colors. Woodblock printing had been used in China for centuries to print books, long before the advent of movable type, but was widely adopted in Japan during the Edo period (1603-1868).
The medium quickly gained popularity, and was used to produce affordable prints as well as books. It also became very popular among 19th century European artists, but that’s subject should have a separate article.
Ukiyo-e genre of art flourished in Japan from the 17th through 19th centuries. The term translates as “picture[s] of the floating world”. Its artists produced woodblock prints and paintings of such subjects as female beauties; kabuki actors and sumo wrestlers; scenes from history and folk tales; travel scenes and landscapes; flora and fauna; and erotica. Sometimes, these woodblocks also presented snow and winter.