Nishikawa Sukenobu 西川祐信 (1671-1750)
The Love of Women: An Erotic Game of Backgammon
(Saiai irosugoroku 妻愛色双六)

Japan, Edo period (1615-1868), c. 1710s-1730s
Woodblock-printed book; ink on paper
Purchase, Richard Lane Collection, 2003

Female bathhouse attendants (yuna) epitomized the harshest aspects of the sex industry in early modern Japan. Yuna engaged in unlicensed prostitution outside of the Yoshiwara from about 1630 until 1657, at which point the Yoshiwara proprietors pressured the shogunate to shut down bathhouses. Later, many of the bathhouses were transformed into teahouses, and these women were re-employed as teahouse waitresses (sancha).

Due to the unlicensed nature and short history of these bathhouses, the amount that a visitor was expected to pay is unclear, but as one of the more disreputable venues for prostitution, the fee was likely similar to that of a tsubone (3 to 5 momme — approximately USD $90-150) or a hashi (approximately 1 momme or approximately USD $30) within the Yoshiwara.

Here, a yuna attends to a wakashū customer’s sexual needs in a rather impressive feat of acrobatics, yet her facial expression conveys the same sense of emotional detachment as her coworker, who washes the back of an adult male customer in the adjoining room.

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