The Soiled Doves

Illustration from “Japan and its Art”, by Marcus B Huish, 1889. Unrelated to this article apart from being contemporary, but I liked it!

Windows into Japan 9All this month we have been looking at some quotes from travel writers who visited Japan during the latter half of the 19th Century, after isolationism came to an end.  I hope this has been an interesting and enjoyable series of posts. For the final quote, let’s take a look at A Winter in Japan and China, by L C Goodwin, published c. 1890.  The winter in question was 1889-1890.  One of the sights the writer and his friend decided to explore was the area of Yokohama set aside for prostitution.  I wouldn’t like to speculate on what motivated these two men to visit prostitutes, but I am sure it was strictly for the purposes of research…

Last night Mr. Lyon and myself concluded that we would visit the quarter set apart for the “soiled doves.” In Japan this class are all under the special supervision of the police and medical department, and a part of the city is set apart for them; and they are compelled to dress differently from other women, so that they are distinguished at a glance. The place is in the best part of the city; the houses are larger, the streets wider, and the girls are all young; most of them are bought when children and are trained to the business; taught to play on the koto and banjo, and are also taught all the other Japanese accomplishments usually given to the women of the country, and serve ten years. It is not considered disreputable for a girl to have been one of this class. After their term of service has expired many of them marry well, for they are better educated and dressed than most of the girls are of the class from which they sprang. We took jinrikshas at 9:30 and ordered the men to take us to see the “Jo Jos.” It is in the southern part of the city; there are three or four streets in which they are domiciled. The houses are two-story: the floor of the lower story is raised about four feet from the ground and covered with matting, and divided into rooms of twenty to thirty feet in length and ten wide; the front is protected by grilles only, so that the passerby sees all that is in the rooms. The girls were sitting along the back wall, with a brazier before each one, in which was a fire for them to warm their hands; all were dressed in fine robes of silk, some smoking; in some of the rooms were only five or six; in one I counted thirty girls. The rooms were all well lighted, so that the goods were displayed to the best advantage. We stopped in front of several of the houses and had a good look at the girls; none of them said a word or made a sign to us in fact, no more modest looking or well behaved company of girls could be found in Japan than these that were here set on exhibition. We saw about five hundred of them. I am informed that there are twelve hundred registered prostitutes in Yokohama.

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About Roger Pocock

Co-writer on Author of Editor of
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