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.
A “wife-shape” or “Edo shape.” An historic version of a modern kokeshi doll. Look it up. An azumagata was made of a likeness-picture attached to a “body” created from rolled up clothing and a bag filled with warm, mashed yams or the multi-purpose konnyaku jelly, which seems like the Swiss Army knife of sex in Japan. The resulting wife-shape was taken to bed by a gentleman with romance on his mind. Use your imagination, if you dare.
Yoshiwara was just one of the pleasure districts in Edo. Another was Yoshichô, the home of male prostitutes. While some may wonder at the mind blowing weirdness of a few of the items on this list, one thing is clear—the average Edoite (person who lived in Edo) really knew how to party like a boss … provided that boss was a pervy yam fancier, that is.