A Visitor’s Guide to the Yoshiwara District
(Yoshiwara saiken 吉原細見)
Japan, Edo period (1615-1868), 1822
Woodblock-printed book; ink on paper
Purchase, Richard Lane Collection, 2003
The Yoshiwara district became such a popular attraction that guidebooks, which listed the current courtesans of each brothel, were published semi-annually from around the Jōkyō era (1684-1687) until 1916, making it one of the longest running serial publications in Japanese history.
This particular edition, dating to 1822, begins with a list of courtesan ranks and their corresponding prices and proceeds thereafter with a block-by-block map of the district, including a complete list of courtesans currently working at each of the brothels. Shown on these two pages are the Matsumoto-ya, the Hashimoto-ya, the Tama-ya, and five other brothels lining Ageya-chō; Boulevard. (Text in the upper half of the guidebook is written upside-down, and the reader would be required to rotate the page in order to read it properly.)
In the space devoted to each house, the name or crest of the house is listed in the upper right corner. Directly below that is an icon that represented the publisher’s rating of the brothel. (A half-filled circle indicated “substandard quality.”) The name of the proprietor is written along the right margin, and the top-ranking courtesans are listed along the top margin, with the status of each courtesan indicated by an icon above her name.
None of the brothels shown here had oiran, the highest-ranking courtesans of that time period, who were frequently depicted in ukiyo-e portraits of beauties (bijin-ga), and this was likely the reason for their lackluster reviews.
Each of the brothels had several zashikimochi (second-rate courtesans), who were available for between 15 and 30 momme (approximately USD $450-$900), and heyamochi (third-rate courtesans), who were available for between 7.5 and 15 momme (approximately USD $225-$450). The names of these lower-ranking courtesans appear in the bottom half of each box, and the name of the brothel’s yarite (female supervisor) appears in the lower left corner of each box.
View this book in its entirety on museum database (enabled through support by the Robert F. Lange Foundation)