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Courtesans entertain clients


Courtesans typically painted their faces white

Courtesans were sanctioned by the Tokugawa government and readily available to samurai and commoners. Prostitution was one the few jobs available to women, open to any strata of society. If a family found themselves in dire financial straits, one option was to sell a daughter for a lump sum, and girls sold into prostitution were regarded with sympathy. For the parents, the loss of a daughter was outweighed by the creature comforts she would gain—her housing and clothing would likely be better than anything they could offer, and she might even receive an education. A beautiful woman from the lowest class could erase her past and low social status if she were trained in the arts. There was even the possiblity that she could marry a man from higher class.

In Edo, high-class courtesans plied their services in Yoshiwara, the city's elite pleasure district. For a samurai, an evening in Yoshiwara was a special occasion, and quite expensive. To enter Yoshiwara, one crossed a lowered drawbridge and entered through a front gate. Once inside, the visitor was confronted with block after block of invitingly illuminated houses.

Top and left: Courtesans and their clientel/Chiba City Museum.


The courtesan was not allowed to wear socks and went barefoot even in the winter. Her feet were whitened with make-up and her toenails were rouged with the juice of red flowers. Bare feet were considered sensual.

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