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History of Prostitution in Japan: Ancient Times Through the Heian Period Part 2

Men's Cyzo - Original Japanese Date: February 16th, 2015
English Translation Published: April 10th, 2015

Japanese miko who still exist today used to perform more erotic variations of the dances they are still known to perform on certain occasions.

(Translator's note: This post is a continuation of a previous entry.)

The Nara period gave birth to the 'wandering prostitute'.  Women in this line of work went around town offering their services both to higher ranking officials and travelers alike.  They frequently served as living entertainment during dinner parties and at bathhouses as well.  It was common to see them dancing, singing, and serving as 'companions' to the men at these types of events.  Private nocturnal meeting were also commonplace.  Converting their fees to a modern form of financial compensation would amount to around 100,000 yen per night (approximately $1000USD).  In the Japan of centuries past, 'wandering prostitutes' were rather common in most parts of the expanding nation.  Due to the high pay, women of various upbringings yearned to join the oldest of professions.

Wandering prostitutes fell somewhat to the wayside during the Heian period.  Here, miko generally picked up the slack.  Temples around this time were sometimes surrounded by red light districts consisting of a multitude of bathhouses.  Ōe no Masafusa, a famous scholar from the later part of the Heian period was well known for his notes on these districts in the Yuujoki.  His account of women acting as prostitutes similar to modern day soapland queens was one of the earliest on record.  However, his account was not critical of what they were doing.  Rather, since they were connected to the temple, he saw it as a continuance of deitic transmission.  The prostitutes of this era were simply working overtime in providing those who wanted it with extra doses of the divine.

The largest clash between the ways prostitutes are seen in ancient Japan versus their image in the west is that of slavery.  From olden times, prostitutes frequently were equiated with miko which as written above, was not a bad thing.  The concept of sexual slavery is not that common in Japanese history.  There's an element of spirituality at play here which can truly be considered something quite unique as to how the Japanese of yesterday—and even today—associate sexual congress with.  For western countries with strong Christian morales, prostitution has always been seen in a negative light and the same cannot be said for spiritual yet secular Japan.  Liberation from sexual bondage is something very alien to the ears of our Japanese ancestors.


Written by Miyuki Nakagawara


Men's Cyzo recommends this title to readers of this article.


(Translator's note:  you can consider the last paragraph a quick reasoning as to why sex in Japan is looked at much differently than it is in the west.  What's strange for outsiders may also be considered strange by regular Japanese folk, but it's still accepted and not shunned to the point of modifying the law to appease a few dirty old men in power.)

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