Japanese Shunga Podcast: The Yoshiwara

Narrated by Dietra Cordea

Transcript:
Welcome to the Yoshiwara, the government-sanctioned brothel district on the outskirts of Edo City.

While we mentioned that the Kabuki theater was instrumental in developing the sexual culture of early modern Japan, nothing was more influential in that regard than this district and its inhabitants. If you are looking for evidence that the people of this culture thought of sex as a natural facet of daily life, look no further than these images of the Yoshiwara teeming with visitors as if it were a contemporary American shopping mall on the day after Thanksgiving. Men wander along Nakanochō Boulevard with enormous paper lanterns in their hands while the courtesans, often flanked by their kamuro assistants, stand nobly in front of their respective brothels.

Can we trust, however, that the artist is faithfully documenting the appearance of the Yoshiwara and the extent to which visitors patronized it, or is this image an aggrandizement of its actual popularity?

The fact that other depictions and verbal descriptions of the brothel district, including other artworks displayed in this exhibition, are consistent with Toyoharu's image indicate that these women in fact enjoyed astounding fame during their lifetimes.