Yoshiwara : The Glittering World of the Japanese Courtesan

4.35 (54 ratings by Goodreads)

Free delivery worldwide

Available. Dispatched from the UK in 11 business days
When will my order arrive?


Drawing on both historical and literary sources, examines life in the pleasure houses of Japan during the Edo period from the early 1600s to 1868. Among the topics are the origins, illegal competitors, the cost of a visit, the treatment of the courtesans, traditions and protocols, and Yoshiwara arts.
show more

Product details

  • Hardback | 336 pages
  • 154.43 x 233.68 x 26.67mm | 644.1g
  • Honolulu, HI, United States
  • English
  • New
  • 0824814886
  • 9780824814885
  • 1,500,207

Back cover copy

Yoshiwara is the first attempt in nearly a century to give a comprehensive and detailed account of Edo-period Japan's legendary pleasure quarter. The book begins with a brief history of prostitution in Japan and follows with a survey of the Yoshiwara from its origins in the early 1600s to shortly after the Meiji Restoration in 1868. Yoshiwara society possessed for most of its history considerable glamour and surface allure, yet, at the same time, it accommodated attitudes and activities that today could only be regarded as exploitative and inhumane. Cecilia Segawa Seigle looks impartially at all aspects of Yoshiwara life, offering much information - the result of painstaking research in primary sources - that will be a revelation to readers in the West. While discussing in depth the highly specialized and idiosyncratic world of licensed prostitution, Seigle also makes the reader aware of the broader impact of this insular entertainment quarter on the manners and mores of other segments of Japanese society, both then and now. Arranged chronologically, Yoshiwara is not so much a history as a companion to studies of Edo-period literature, theatre, and the visual arts. It provides an overview of the social, cultural, and economic influences on and of this microcosm of early-modern urban Japan. An especially engaging feature of this readable text is the liberal use of anecdotes from contemporary sources. Specialists will find particularly interesting the carefully researched and clearly written exposition of the quarter's complex hierarchy and elaborate code of behavior. While always maintaining the distinction between fact and fabrication, this fascinating study seeks to delineate thetruths that lie behind the legends.
show more

Review quote

One of the first extensive Western-language surveys of this vital component of Edo culture. Its value is as great as the influence of the Yoshiwara was pervasive: students of any aspect of early modern urban culture will find much of value in its richly informative chapters... It attracts by its high readability, its engaging blend of factual data, translated anecdote, and paraphrased episode.
-Journal of Japanese Studies
show more

Rating details

54 ratings
4.35 out of 5 stars
5 50% (27)
4 37% (20)
3 11% (6)
2 2% (1)
1 0% (0)

Our customer reviews

Whilst this book does contain a lot of information, it's not all that well organized. There are references in early chapters to terms, practices or events which aren't explained until much later in the book, which can be confusing unless you already have extensive knowledge of the subject. Some areas are just touched upon with no great detail given, and it's easy to get lost when the author moves from one time period to another without explaining changes that were taking place fully. Information about the ranking of courtesans is confusing, and there are a number of inconsistencies in the text. The index doesn't help because it's so limited. Despite talking about the harsh realities of Yoshiwara life, the author talks a fair amount about the women being better off than ordinary Japanese women, happy in ignorance, etc., and the rose-tinted glasses are definitely on some of the time, which was disappointing considering the nature of Yoshiwara life and its dependence on a system of slavery. You need to read this one more than once because of the arrangement of information.show more
by David Stokes
Book ratings by Goodreads
Goodreads is the world's largest site for readers with over 50 million reviews. We're featuring millions of their reader ratings on our book pages to help you find your new favourite book. Close X