Translated News, Interviews, Blogs, and More From Japan's Other Side

History of Prostitution in Japan: The Edo Period Part One

Men's Cyzo - Original Japanese Date: March 9th, 2015
English Translation Published: August 10th, 2015

The Edo period was one of the longest periods of peace in Japanese history and also was considered the golden age of prostitutes and the brothel industry.

This article is a continuation of a previous entries that covered Japan and the sale of sex through the Heian, Kamakura, and Muromachi periods.


Welcome back to the Men's Cyzo ongoing history of Japanese prostitution. In this edition, we cover the Edo period.

The Japanese brothel industry advanced and flourished from medieval times into more modern eras. We eventually saw the rise of both licensed and unlicensed prostitutes as they entered the mainstream of society.

The years leading up to the Edo period were full of strife and all-out war. Fortunately, what followed was one of the longest eras of tranquility in Japan's expansive history and with peace, prostitution flourished. This also was the era that spawned the infamous Yoshiwara red light district in Tokyo in 1617. The Genroku era of the Edo period was the most prosperous in terms of an overall golden age for the country and the expansion of red light districts with Shinmachi in Osaka and Shimabara in Kyoto.


Modern day oiran recreation.

Red light districts were unique places where women tended to have more power than man. What's more, in spite of being known nowadays for sex and only sex, those among the fairer gender who were born in raised in these districts were very learned. From an early age, they thoroughly studied and mastered classical literature, calligraphy, the tea ceremony, poetry, Go, and more. Studies were challenging and time-consuming for many who yearned to live a more normal life.

Courtesans—known as oiran held the highest rank in red light districts. Make no mistake that in spite of their popularity, most women in these districts were of a lesser rank. Only the top of the top of female Japanese entertainers of this era could earn the distinction of being oiran.

What's more, Japan—and especially the Edo period—were very rank-focused and even amongst oiran, there was a pecking order with tayuu being at the top. These are the true celebrities and socialites who became the faces of an era. You can somewhat associate them with modern day Japanese idols as their names were known throughout the nation by both men and women. Having a tayuu entertain a group for a night would cost the equivalent of nearly $50,000USD.


To be continued...


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


Written by Miyuki Nakagawara


(Translator's note: Yes, the depiction of geisha training also to some extent was part of the daily ritual of other classes of companions found in the red light districts of the Edo period. Many of the women were not simple simpletons with great looks. They were the precursors to modern-day hostesses of the highest caliber.)

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