In the early 17th century, there was widespread male and female
prostitutionthroughout the cities of Kyoto, Edo, and Osaka. To counter this, an order of Tokugawa Hidetadaof the Tokugawa shogunaterestricted prostitution to designated city districts. These districts were Shimabara for Kyōto (1640Avery, Anne Louise. "Flowers of the Floating World: Geisha and Courtesans in Japanese Prints and Photographs, 1772–1926" [Exhibition Catalogue] (Sanders of Oxford & Mayfield Press: Oxford, 2006)] ), Shinmachifor Ōsaka (1624–1644) and Yoshiwara for Edo (1617). The main reason for establishing these nightless cities was the Tokugawa shogunate's trying to prevent the nouveau riche chōnin (townsmen) from political intrigue.
Prostitution in Japan
The "Yoshiwara" was created in the city of Edo, located near what is today known as
Nihonbashi, near the start of the busy Tōkaidō that leads to western Kyotoin western Japan. In 1656, due to the need for space as the city grew, the government decided to relocate Yoshiwara, and plans were made to move the district to its present location north of Asakusaon the outskirts of the city.
The old Yoshiwara district burned down (along with much of the city) in the Meireki fire of 1657; it was rebuilt in the new location, when it was renamed "Shin Yoshiwara" (New Yoshiwara), the old location being called "Moto Yoshiwara" (Original Yoshiwara); eventually the "Shin" was dropped, and the new district became known simply as the Yoshiwara. [Cecilia Segawa Seigle, Amy Reigle Newland, et al., "A Courtesan's Day: Hour by Hour" (Hotei, Amsterdam, 2004), pp. 9-11]
The Yoshiwara was home to some 1,750 women in the 1700s, with records of some 3,000 women from all over Japan at one time. The area had over 9,000 women, many of whom suffered from
syphilis, in 1893. [De Becker, J. E. "The Nightless City, or The History of the Yoshiwara Yūkaku", (Charles E. Tuttle, Tokyo, 1971), p. 360.] These women were often sold to the brothels by their parents at the age of about seven to twelve. If the young girl was lucky, she would become an apprentice to a high ranking courtesan. When the girl was old enough and had completed her training, she would become a courtesan herself and work her way up the ranks. The girls often had a contract to the brothel for only about five to ten years, but massive debtoften kept them in the brothels their entire life. There were very few ways for a young lady to get out of the brothel due to all of her debt. One way out of Yoshiwara was for a rich man to buy her contract from the brothel and keep her as his personal concubine. Another would be if she managed to be successful and clever enough that she was able to buy her own freedom. This did not occur very often, though.
Social classes were not strictly divided in Yoshiwara. A commoner with enough money would be served as an equal to a
samurai. Though it was discouraged for a samurai to enter the Yoshiwara area, they often did so anyway. The only requirement on them was that all their weapons had to be left at the town's entrance gate. Also by law, the patronsof the brothels were only allowed to stay for a night and a day at a time.
Yoshiwara also became a strong commercial area. The
fashionsin the town changed frequently, creating a great demand for merchants and artisans. Traditionally the prostitutes were supposed to wear only simple blue robes, but this was rarely enforced. The high-ranking ladies often dressed in the highest fashion of the time, with bright colorful silk kimonos and expensive and elaborate hair decorations. Fashion was so important in Yoshiwara that it frequently dictated the fashion trends for the rest of Japan. The area was damaged by an extensive firein 1913, then nearly wiped out by an earthquakein 1923. It remained in business, however, until prostitution was abolished by the Japanese government in 1958 after the Second World War.
Edo is now known as the city of
Tokyo, Japanand prostitution is technically illegal, although this supposed illegality has been accomplished by applying a rather strained definition of the term (for example, the definition of "prostitution" for some reason does not extend to a "private agreement" reached between a woman and a man in a brothel). The area known as Yoshiwara, near Minowa station on the Hibiya Line, is now known as "Senzoku Yon-chō-me" and still retains a large number of soaplands and other façadesfor sexual services.
People and services
People involved in nihongo|
mizu shōbai|水商売 ("the water trade" [Dalby, Liza. "Geisha" (London: Vintage, 2000)] ) would include hōkan (comedians), kabuki(popular theatre of the time), dancers, dandies, rakes, tea-shop girls, Kanō (painters of the official school of painting), courtesans who resided in seirō (green houses) and geisha in their okiya houses.
The courtesans would consist of yūjo (women of pleasure/prostitutes), kamuro (young female students), shinzō (senior female students), hashi-jōro (lower-ranking courtesans), kōshi-jōro (high-ranking courtesans just below tayū), tayū (high-ranking courtesans),
oiran("castle-topplers", named that way for how quickly they could part a daimyō(lord) from his money), yarite (older chaperones for an oiran), and the yobidashi who replaced the tayū when they were priced out of the market.
In addition to courtesans, there were also
geisha/geiko, maiko (apprentice geishas), otoko geisha (male geishas), danna (patrons of a geisha), and okâsan (geisha teahouse managers). The lines between geisha and courtesans were sharply drawn, however - a geisha was never to be sexually involved with a customer, though there were exceptions.
At first glance, Yoshiwara today looks very similar to many other neighborhoods of modern
Tokyo. Still, it does retain legacies to its past as it contains commercial establishments engaged in the sex trade. The street grid pattern and the temples and shrines from times past still exist.
* [http://www.artgallery.sbc.edu/ukiyoe/yoshiwara.html Information about the Yoshiwara District]
* [http://www.oldtokyo.com/yoshiwara.html Pictures and Information]
* [http://www.oac.cdlib.org/affiliates/images/grunwald/gcga_1965.30.135_1_2.jpgImage of Yoshiwara]
* [http://www.utamarorevealed.com/Yoshiwara.html Article about the founding of the Yoshiwara]
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