In 1621, a brothel owner wrote a petition to the Japanese shogun Tokugawa Ieyasu. He made an argument that if a “red light district” was established in Edo (the city that later became Tokyo), it would be beneficial to everyone. The shogunate agreed, and not surprisingly, the owner of the brothel was appointed as the owner of the new recreation area.
Yoshiwara means “reed field” because it was basically built on a drained swamp and was completed in 1626. From the opening of the gate until the area was closed by the government in 1959, Yoshiwara was still the legendary pornographic version of Disney World (Disney World) suitable for rich and energetic adult gentlemen, not itchy. But for women working there, this is a prison they cannot escape.
Let’s begin with actual pornography. Shunga, or “spring pictures”, are color woodblock prints depicting erotic acts, and could be purchased directly from the printer. Shunga also acted as instructive illustrations for new wives, and were carried as lucky charms by samurai going into battle. Though banned, shunga remained hugely popular. If you know anything about Japanese anime, you’ve likely come across the term hentai, a genre of sexually explicit animation. Does the word “tentacles” bring some unusual images to mind? All that tentacle probing probably found inspiration in The Dream of the Fisherman’s Wife, a shunga by Hokusai featuring an attractive lady and a couple of amorous octopuses.