The Social Structure of the Yoshiwara Before 1750
In the 13th century, the sex industry throughout Japan already showed signs of stratification, and the development of the Yoshiwara during the early Edo period (1615-1868) can be most easily explained in terms of its social hierarchy. Listed here are some classifications of Yoshiwara residents from 1617 until 1750.
Tayū: The highest class of courtesan. A visitor to the Yoshiwara who wished to employ the services of a tayū had to complete an application for an appointment at one of the Yoshiwara’s houses of assignation (ageya) and to submit a letter of recommendation from one of the Yoshiwara teahouses. If his application were accepted, a message would be sent to the tayū’s brothel, and the tayū would be summoned to appear with her entourage of four or more assistants. Upon her arrival, she and the visitor would follow an elaborate, pre-determined ceremony — a simplified version of a traditional wedding ceremony, and after the conclusion of the ceremony, the tayū would depart. The client was required to submit to this ritual at least three times before he was allowed to physically touch her. Each visit cost between 70 and 90 pieces of silver (momme) — between approximately USD $2,100 and USD $2,700. Even on the third visit, if the tayū did not find the client to be to her liking, she had the right to refuse his advances and reject him as a client altogether without risk of retribution. Many visitors apparently considered the challenge of winning a tayū’s affection to be an exhilarating sport.
Kōshi: The second rank of courtesans in the Yoshiwara. Similar to those visitors who wished to meet a tayū, first-time customers would request her at one of the Yoshiwara’s houses of assignation (ageya). The visitor needed to submit a letter of reference from one of the teahouses within the Yoshiwara, and if his application were accepted, a message would be sent to the kōshi’s brothel requesting her attendance. The kōshi would arrive with her assistants, and after a formal meeting with the visitor, the kōshi had the right to refuse his request, though such refusals were not as expected as they were from tayū. For subsequent visits, customers could go directly to the latticed parlor of the brothel where she resided. Each visit cost between 35 to 60 momme — approximately USD $1,050-$1,800.
Tsubone: Lower-class prostitutes. Tsubone waited in the latticed parlor of the brothel for a customer to arrive. They would then lead him to a small room that was personally assigned to each prostitute. Tsubone were not allowed to refuse a customer. Each visit to a tsubone cost 3 to 5 momme — approximately USD $90-$150.
Hashi: Prostitutes of the lowest class. Hashi waited in the latticed parlor of the brothel for a customer to arrive. They would borrow or rent a small room for their meetings with men. Hashi were not allowed to refuse customers. Each visit to a hashi cost approximately 1 momme or approximately USD $30.