In 1621, a brothel keeper wrote a petition to Tokugawa Ieyasu, the shogun and ruler of Japan. He made an argument that it would be good for everyone if a “courtesan quarter”—a red-light district—were set up in Edo (the city which later became Tokyo). The shogun agreed, and unsurprisingly, the brothel keeper was appointed the master of the new pleasure quarter.
Yoshiwara, meaning “field of reeds” because it was basically built on a drained swamp, was completed in 1626. From the moment the gates opened for business, until the district was closed by the government in 1959, Yoshiwara remained a legendary porno version of Disney World for wealthy and lusty adult gentlemen with an itch to be scratched. But for the women who worked there, it was a prison from which they couldn’t escape.
This one’s more for the ladies who lived and worked in Yoshiwara. The highest love token that could be given by a lady to her gentleman lover was a lock of hair, a fingernail, or an amputated pinkie finger. That’s right, you heard me. Self mutilation equaled utter devotion. Needless to say, since a courtesan might have many lovers she was stringing along, she couldn’t give away her hair or chop off digits left and right. A solution came in the form of the priests who handled dead bodies at temples around Yoshiwara. Some of them removed the fingernails, pinkie fingers, and hair from dead women and sold them to Yoshiwara courtesans, who were guaranteed a very nice present when they showed their lover a bandaged hand sprinkled with chicken’s blood, a few tears, and a pinkie in a box.
Note: traditionally, the amputation was done by setting a razor edge down on the finger, and striking the back very firmly with the wooden block used as a pillow. Yikes!