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Selling Women

Selling Women: Prostitution, Markets, and the Household in Early Modern Japan

Amy Stanley
Copyright Date: 2012
Edition: 1
Pages: 282
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  • Book Info
    Selling Women
    Book Description:

    This book traces the social history of early modern Japan’s sex trade, from its beginnings in seventeenth-century cities to its apotheosis in the nineteenth-century countryside. Drawing on legal codes, diaries, town registers, petitions, and criminal records, it describes how the work of “selling women” transformed communities across the archipelago. By focusing on the social implications of prostitutes’ economic behavior, this study offers a new understanding of how and why women who work in the sex trade are marginalized. It also demonstrates how the patriarchal order of the early modern state was undermined by the emergence of the market economy, which changed the places of women in their households and the realm at large.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-95238-6
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. ix-x)
    (pp. xi-xvi)
    Matthew H. Sommer

    Amy Stanley’s wonderful book demonstrates once again Joan Scott’s insight that the analytical perspective of gender changes our understanding of the big picture.¹ Stanley uses women’s experience of prostitution to reinterpret two big changes that bookend the early modern period of Japanese history: the Tokugawa shogunate’s establishment of a status-based social order, and the commercial boom that would eventually spell that order’s doom. In the process, she also revises longstanding Eurocentric assumptions among feminist scholars about the relationship between stigma and female agency in the context of the sex trade.

    The standard assumption of past scholarship (to the extent that...

    (pp. xvii-xx)
    (pp. xxi-xxii)
    (pp. 1-20)

    The early modern prostitute is an iconic figure in Japanese history. Like the medieval samurai and the late twentieth-century salaryman, she personifies her era. In movies, television dramas, historical fiction, and academic scholarship, she symbolizes both the economic and cultural dynamism of the shogunate’s great cities and the subjugation of women during a period of intense social repression. Among her contemporaries, she occupied a similarly ambiguous, and equally prominent, place in the popular imagination. During the Tokugawa period (1600–1868), an immense volume of cultural production surrounded the sex trade, making the imagined pleasures of the brothel accessible to a...


    • CHAPTER ONE Adulterous Prostitutes, Pawned Wives, and Purchased Women: Female Bodies as Currency
      (pp. 23-44)

      Kokane ran away with a man named Sō dayū in 1614, leaving behind her husband and her home in the remote mining town of Innai Ginzan in Akita domain.¹ She was taking her life in her hands. It was illegal for a married woman to leave town without her husband’s permission, and it was also extremely dangerous. Although the major military engagements of the Sengoku, or Warring States, era had come to an end, this corner of the archipelago was far from peaceful. Even the newly appointed lord of the domain (daimyō), Satake Yoshinobu (1570–1633), a fearsome warrior in...

    • CHAPTER TWO Creating “Prostitutes”: Benevolence, Profit, and the Construction of a Gendered Order
      (pp. 45-71)

      In 1612, an Edo brothel keeper named Jin’emon submitted a petition to the Tokugawa shogunate asking the new government to recognize his business and grant him a plot of land where he and his colleagues could ply their trade. He framed his argument carefully. When his associates had petitioned the shogunate to be acknowledged as a guild in 1605, the magistrates had responded that they saw no reason to extend special privileges to brothel keepers. This time Jin’emon wanted to be certain that his request would be considered, so he appealed to the shogunate’s interest in preserving social and political...

    • CHAPTER THREE Negotiating the Gendered Order: Prostitutes as Daughters, Wives, and Mothers
      (pp. 72-100)

      Prostitutes in the southern port city of Nagasaki, like their counterparts in the shogun’s capital of Edo, were often immortalized in colorful woodblock prints and paintings. Sometimes they closely resembled Yoshiwarayūjo,wearing elaborate robes, spiky gold hair ornaments, and high wooden clogs. But while Yoshiwara’s women are usually depicted gazing into mirrors, posing with parasols, or playing with their pets, Nagasaki’s prostitutes are shown engaging in a broader (and, for their time, more unusual) array of activities: looking through telescopes, playing pool, and watching for tall ships in the harbor. Others look more like townsmen’s wives, in relatively plain...


      (pp. 103-110)

      In 1678, Fujimoto Kizan’sShikido Ōkagami(The Great Mirror of Love) offered what was intended to be a complete list of Japan’s “pleasure districts” (yūri) ranked in order from number one (Kyoto’s Shimabara) to twenty-five (Satsuma’s Tamachi).¹ Over a hundred and fifty years later, Kitagawa Morisada included a reproduction of a similar ranking in his encyclopedic account of late Tokugawa manners and customs. This version took the form of abanzuke,which was typically used to publicize sumo wrestlers’ standing in a tournament. This time, Edo’s Yoshiwara took the number one spot, and Shimabara was tied with Osaka’s Shinmachi for...

    • CHAPTER FOUR From Household to Market: Child Sellers, “Widows,” and Other Shameless People
      (pp. 111-133)

      The agronomist, strategist, and economist Satō Nobuhiro (1769–1850) remarked in 1829 that prostitutes were a “famous product” (meibutsu) of the northeastern province of Echigo.¹ He followed this pronouncement with a brief discussion of the thousands of women who had left the region to work in brothels throughout the archipelago. Like Satsuma sugar, Chōshū salt, and other “famous products,” Echigo women were renowned for qualities said to be unique to their place of origin. According to lore, they were fair-skinned beauties, as pale and luminous as the snow that blanketed their region for much of the winter. In the province’s...

    • CHAPTER FIVE Glittering Hair Ornaments and Barren Fields: Prostitution and the Crisis of the Countryside
      (pp. 134-162)

      In the foreground of Keisai Eisen’s woodblock print of Fukaya station, issued in the late 1830s, an apron-clad maidservant holding a lantern leads two geisha on their way to an evening appointment. Recognizing a fellow geisha and her maidservant heading in the opposite direction, they pause briefly to exchange greetings. Meanwhile, in the brothel behind them, another maid is welcoming a group of clients in the entrance foyer and a few serving girls are sitting behind a lattice screen. They look out on the busy streets of the station, waiting for customers to arrive and request their services.

      As Jilly...

    • CHAPTER SIX Tora and the “Rules of the Pleasure Quarter”
      (pp. 163-188)

      Tora was born in 1851, and she spent her childhood in the town of Takehara in Hiroshima domain. A port on the Inland Sea, Takehara was a popular destination for boats of almost every variety: large ships transporting bales of tax rice to central brokers in Osaka, smaller vessels carrying handicrafts and marine products to local markets, and dinghies ferrying passengers back and forth across the water. Takehara’s wholesalers (ton’ya) served as distribution centers for the commercial vessels’ cargo, and its boat lodges (funayado) provided sailors with foodstuffs and other necessities. The town’s businesses also latered to recreational travelers, whose...

    (pp. 189-198)

    As the chapters of this book have moved from the mountains of Akita to the islands of the Inland Sea, they have also traced the development of a vast market for sexual services. In the seventeenth century, prostitution was primarily an urban phenomenon, fueled by the demographic movement of unattached young men to recently opened mines and newly constructed cities. But by the eighteenth and the nineteenth centuries, the locus of growth had shifted to smaller provincial towns, where it was powered by the expansion of commercial agriculture and the emergence of a culture of travel. By the close of...

  11. NOTES
    (pp. 199-224)
    (pp. 225-242)
  13. INDEX
    (pp. 243-256)
  14. Back Matter
    (pp. 257-257)