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Diary of a Virgin Prostitute: (Collection of Poems)

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For Local Authors. My Book Box. They, too, made the journey to Yoshiwara, hiding their faces with big straw sedge hats. The new Edo middle class developed a taste for fast fashion and ribald and wild stories—and devoured woodblock prints advertising both Yoshiwara and Kabuki performances.


By , densely populated Yoshiwara was home to more than 4, prostitutes as well as kitchen workers, maids, and other service people. The biggest brothels would have as many as 50 prostitutes. A kimono with a willow tree and Chinese characters from the 18th century. The wives of the daimyo and high-ranking samurai, following Confucian ideals, were expected to dress modestly and served their husbands, while the feudal lords looked to courtesans to find passion and love. The clients wanted to believe that their favorite courtesans were in love with them, and they were sold as such.

You really want to spend time with them, but at the same time, you need to be on your guard, which makes it all the sexier. Those sorts of stories were repeated again and again in books over the course of the centuries, passed down as being firsthand accounts. In reality, the high-ranking courtesans and low-ranking prostitutes all suffered from venereal disease and the hardships of bearing unwanted children.

The courtesans in particular wore toxic lead makeup to whiten their faces, necks, hands, and feet. Many prostitutes died by age Brothel owners ranked the women in Yoshiwara in a rigid hierarchical schema, the quick and inexpensive moat-side prostitutes being the lowest, with the elite courtesans at the top. These courtesans, who were celebrities, had the most comfortable lives of all the prostitutes—they had luxurious garments and bedding and enviable education. In , Yoshiwara is recorded as having courtesans of the upper tiers, and prostitutes on the lower tiers.

They whispered among themselves in a coquettish manner in well-appointed parlors as men gawked and discussed their attributes. The courtesans here could not be approached directly. Instead, a man had to ask an intermediary to set up a series of interviews with the courtesan, where he would entertain her and her attendants. On the first introduction, the courtesan would ignore the wealthy patron and refuse his offers of food and drink. On the second meeting, she might sit closer to him, but still turn down any refreshments. Finally, at the third meeting, she would be willing to engage him in conversation and partake in the food set out for her.

She and the client would engage in a sake-drinking ceremony that required they each take three sips from three different cups, totally nine sips, before they had sex.

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  4. These included kimonos made of luxurious fabrics like silk satin, brocade, velvet, and open-weave ramie. In addition to the clothing, a well-heeled patron would give a courtesan a futon and sumptuous bed covers as a way of asserting his relationship with her was unique. This bedding would only be used when he visited. In the early Edo period, the linens would usually include kimono-shaped covers called yogi, which resembled large sleeping bags, made of silk or cotton and filled with removable wadding.

    A yogi, like this one dyed and painted with a phoenix, is a kimono-shaped bed cover. The most adored courtesans achieved an image of youthful perfection, which is some ways, mirror our contemporary celebrity culture. Today, we expect celebrities to have gaunt, razor-sharp cheeks; the Japanese preferred round, soft faces. Where we pluck our eyebrows into thin lines, these women would blacken and thicken the look of their brows. Large breasts and cleavage are not eroticized in these Japanese artworks—instead a tiny, bare foot or a flash of a red undergarment peeping out of her outer robe provides the erotic charge.

    The skin that courtesans did show was whitened with makeup to distance the women from the peasants who worked all day in the sun. Courtesans had similar mirror stands, but they were usually plain black. Initially, a woman only wore her obi tied in the front to indicate she was offering sex for sale, but at some point, courtesans became such style icons that high-ranking military wives also wore their obis tied in front as a fashion statement.

    The parading courtesans walked in a way to flaunt the beauty of their layers and to tantalize potential clients with a flash of a calf. While the Edo-period artists did make graphic behind-the-scenes artworks showing naked samurai and courtesans engaging in various sexual acts, many of hanging scroll painting depicted courtesans fully dressed with mere hints of their occupation.

    Hooker with a Heart of Gold

    Men, particularly those from the Kabuki theater, were even more idealized than women. The Kabuki tradition began early in the Edo Period at brothels, where female prostitutes would put on bawdy musicals for drunk and war-weary samurai—which were also a way to pick up new clients. But these events created too much trouble for the shogunate, who found the way Kabuki brought social classes together distasteful. Another form of Kabuki featured young boys as actors, who were also offered as prostitutes. By the mids, the shogunate had clamped down on the theater, banning both women and boys from performing.

    After that, all roles were played by adult men—but the shogunate could not prevent them from engaging in prostitution. Boys that were apprentices to the actors would also provide sexual services at special teahouses. Boy prostitutes, like their female counterparts, were ranked, and some cost more than the most elite courtesans.

    The Edo middle class loved gender-bending performances and tales revolving around disguise, secret identities, and latent agendas. Stories and mythology around courtesans often involved duplicity on the part of the courtesan or demons, monks, or deities in disguise. A geisha, identified by her swept-back hairdo and subdued clothing, accompanies the singing on samisen. By the turn of the 18th century, courtesans had become more specialized in their skills, so brothels would provide other entertainers, men known as geishas, to amuse patrons waiting to see top-ranked courtesans with dancing, singing, and playing instruments.

    Late in the century, brothels started to hire trained female entertainers. These geishas were prohibited from selling sex, so as not to compete with the oiran.

    Instead, geishas flourished in other traditional courtesan skills including the refined arts and intellectual conversation. Geishas were also required to wear less flashy clothing and hairstyles than the oiran—a pared-down look that eventually became considered more modern and chic. Geishas grew more and more popular in the 19th century, surpassing the status of elite courtesans. Farmers and fishers still sold their daughters into a decade or more of work obligation, but the ones considered more attractive became geishas; those considered less attractive prostitutes. Like the courtesans before them, geishas were ranked.

    They, too, had to buy expensive wardrobes and were educated for etiquette, conversation, and high art. Geisha houses were usually owned and run by women. Weber Collection.

    Meet Your Guides: Part 1 - Indiana Humanities

    Above all, image reigned in Yoshiwara. The crowded narrow streets were probably muddy in the rainy season and dusty when the weather was dry. The water in the moat must have attracted mosquitoes. It was home to coteries of poets, intellectuals, wits, actors, other urban celebrities, and the occasional daimyo. It celebrated luxury and excess in a society where moderation was extolled, and luxury and excess could be punished severely. Very few images of Yoshiwara actually spoke the truth as they saw it. To find more information on the exhibitions, click here. This is a wonderful article.

    Understanding the status tier a little better, made me feel even more sorry for them. Did any of them actually obtain their freedom and have lives as consorts to the men they served or is this just a good story for movies, books, and poetry. This is really good! I took an art history class and we briefly went through Japanese wood blocks. At that time, we only considered the techniques used and the art style.