OLD PHOTOS of JAPAN, a photo blog of Japan in the Meiji, Taisho and Showa periods

Old Photos of Japan
shows photos of Japan between the 1860s and 1930s. In 1854, Japan opened its doors to the outside world for the first time in more than 200 years. It set in motion a truly astounding transformation. As fate would have it, photography had just been invented. As the old country vanished and a new one was born, daring photographers took photos. Discover what life was like with their rare and precious photographs of old Japan.
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Nagasaki 1890s • Maruyama Brothels

Brothel in Maruyama Prostitute Quarters, Nagasaki

“Tea House” is the innocent and misleading title printed on this image. It is actually a view of the Nagasaki brothels Kinbaro (金波楼), the one with the lanterns, and Tamashimatei (玉島亭), the one next to Kinbaro on the far side. These were just two of many brothels in Nagasaki’s Maruyama (丸山町) and Yoriai (寄合町) prostitute quarters. At the height of their popularity, Maruyama and neighboring Yoriai counted no less than 54 brothels with 766 prostitutes.

The popularity can easily be deduced from the number of women employed by Kinbaro in this image. Two prostitutes stand at the entrance of Kinbaro, while another twenty are on the balcony. There were probably more. After the Russo-Japanese War (1904-1905), however, times became increasingly difficult in Nagasaki. By 1925 (Taisho 14), Kinbaro employed only 15 prostitutes and neighbor Tamashimatei just 10.1

Detail of Kinbaro brothel in Nagasaki's Maruyama district
A zoom-in uncovers a surprise: at least three men and several children

Maruyama and Yoriai were especially popular with the many sailors that visited Nagasaki. The majority of these sailors hailed from the UK, the US, France, the Netherlands, Russia and Prussia. They just finished long and often dangerous journeys and it showed in their behavior.

A naval surgeon attached to the U.S.S. Iroquois, who arrived in Nagasaki in October 1868 (Meiji 1), has left us a revealing account of this behavior. He describes a favorite game of American sailors, who were locally known as “John Nugi”, derived from the Japanese word for undressing. The game was a grown up version of “Simon Says,” in which a girl had to take off one clothing item each time she lost.

“As soon as the girls are all naked, why, so soon do they commence to perform all manners of tricks, dancing in the most voluptuous manner, placing themselves in all different kinds of attitudes that one might imagine men and women would take whilst having carnal communication with each other. In short, the whole is one carnival of sin and iniquity, the passions of both sexes amused to the highest pitch.”2

The fun and games in Nagasaki came at a price, many sailors contracted venereal diseases like gonorrhea and syphilis as well as other diseases and quite a few ended up in the city’s foreign cemetery.

For a later view of the same area, see Nagasaki 1910s • Maruyama Brothels.

Map of Nagasaki in 1887
1887 (Meiji 20) Map of Nagasaki: 1. Deshima (also: Dejima); 2. Nakashimagawa; 3. Yoriai; 4. Maruyama

1 Metadata database of Japanese old photographs in Bakumatsu-Meiji Period, Maruyama brothel district. Retrieved on 2008-06-06.

2 Boyer, Samuel P. (1963). Naval Surgeon: Revolt in Japan, 1868-1869. Indiana University Press, 102-103.

As I haven’t discovered the exact location of this image yet, the Google Map shows the center of the Maruyama district.

Photographer: Unknown
Publisher: Unknown
Medium: Albumen Print
Image Number 70820-0007

Quote this number when you contact us about licensing this image.
You can also licence this image online: 70820-0007 @ MeijiShowa.com.

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Posted by • 2008-06-06
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