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

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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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Recent Comments  
  • Kjeld Duits

    @Puck: Thanks! That was an embarrassing mistake. Fixed it!

  • Puck

    The image in the 1000 Yen bill above is of Natsume Soseki and not Hideyo …

  • Kjeld Duits

    Life in the brothels was indeed hard. I will write a description of the extremely …

  • Orchid64

    Pictures like these make me sad. I can’t imagine the lives of of the women …

  • Allan

    Really amazing, to see all these old photos from Japan, and knowing, and having visited …

Yokohama 1890s • Nectarine No. 9 Brothel

Nectarine (No 9) Brothel, Yokohama

Gorgeously dressed prostitutes are standing in the windows of the Nectarine brothel in Yokohama, a world-famous house of prostitution also known as No.9 or Jimpuro (新風楼, occasionally romanized as Jinpuro or Shinpuro). Until the Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923, Jimpuro was one of the top brothels of the city.1 It was originally opened in 1872 (Meiji 5) in Yokohama’s Takashima-cho (高島町). In 1882 (Meiji 15), Jimpuro moved to the less visible area of Eiraku-cho (永楽町). A branch specifically for foreigners was opened at the red-light district of Kanagawa’s Nanaken-machi (七軒町).2 The brothel was called No. 9, because this was Jimpuro’s original address in Takashima-cho.

Miyozaki-cho Prostitute Quarters in Yokohama
The original red-light district of Miyozaki-cho (港崎町) built in Yokohama’s swamps. Woodblock print from 1860 by Sadahide Hashimoto (橋本貞秀).

It was not just Jimpuro that moved. The whole of Yokohama’s licensed prostitution quarter actually moved several times during its existence. In 1866, a disastrous fire erased the original licensed quarter of Miyozaki-cho. A new one was built to the west, but this one burnt down, too. So in 1872 the red-light disctrict of Takashima-cho was built on the reclaimed Noge inlet.

As it happens, this area was clearly visible from the trains that began running that year between Yokohama and Shimbashi Station in Tokyo3. The Japanese government, eager to portray Japan as a modern and civilized country, therefore decided to move the quarter to Eiraku-cho during the early 1880s.4

The huge and extravagant Jimpuro was notorious all over the world, allowing English author and poet Rudyard Kipling to pay tribute to it in his poem McAndrew’s Hymn:

Years when I raked the ports wi’ pride to fill my cup o’ wrong-
Judge not, O Lord, my steps aside at Gay Street in Hong-Kong!
Blot out the wastrel hours of mine in sin when I abode –
Jane Harrigan’s an’ Number Nine, The Reddick an’ Grant Road!

Nectarine No. 9 Business Card
A contemporary business card for Jimpuro reads, “There is only one First Class place for foreigners to patronize in YOKOHAMA. Beware of other houses which have tried to imitate our sign. VERY TRULY YOURS, JIMPURO NECTARINE No. 9. Yeirakucho, Itchome, Yokohama. Tel. Chojamachi, No. 82.

1000 Yen BillJimpuro was not only popular with foreigners, but with Japanese men as well. In 1900, bacteriologist Hideyo Noguchi (1876-1928), who now graces Japan’s 1,000 yen bill and was nominated for a Nobel Prize three times, blew almost 500 yen (a small fortune at the time) at Jimpuro during a single night of pleasure. Some 300 yen of that he had received from an acquaintance, on condition that he marry her niece. Even worse, part of the money was supposed to have been used for the purchase of a ticket for passage to America.

He managed to borrow money from a friend and did make it to the States, where he eventually became a top bacteriologist at the Rockerfeller Institute. He never married the niece, though, and left the repayment of the 300 yen to the same friend he borrowed money from for the ticket to the USA.5

Undoubtedly, Noguchi was not the only man to so foolishly waste his money on Jimpuro’s food, women and wine.

For more information about Japan’s licensed prostitution, click on Prostitution below Themes in the right column.

The Google map shows the location of Yokohama’s Eiraku-cho. I haven’t yet been able to locate the exact location of Jimpuro.

1 Metadata database of Japanese old photographs in Bakumatsu-Meiji Period. Courtesans of Shinpu-ro brothel.

2 Metadata database of Japanese old photographs in Bakumatsu-Meiji Period. Shinpu-ro.

3 For more information about Japan’s first railroad, read Yokohama 1873 • Bentenbashi and Station and Yokohama 1900s • Yokohama Station.

4 Sabin, Burritt (Nov 3, 2002). Yokohama: city of wide horizons. The Japan Times.

5 Kawabata, Tai (Nov 21, 2004). Funny Money. Discordant notes… The Japan Times.

Photographer: Kimbei Kusakabe
Publisher: Kimbei Kusakabe
Medium: Albumen Print
Image Number 70606-0003

Quote this number when you contact us about licensing this image.
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Posted by • 2008-11-11
Add Comment

Really amazing, to see all these old photos from Japan, and knowing, and having visited and seen the areas myself in the last 5 years, I can relate to them well.

Allan (New Zealand)

# Allan · 2008-11-16

Pictures like these make me sad. I can’t imagine the lives of of the women who were “employed” in these brothels. Given the status of women at that time, I’d guess they were unwanted daughters or forced into this work. It’s not so different from brothels in Japan now except that now most of the employees are from other countries.

# Orchid64 · 2008-12-16

Life in the brothels was indeed hard. I will write a description of the extremely lonely death of a prostitute in a future article. But they weren’t unwanted daughters. In many cases parents were forced to sell their daughters because of unimaginable poverty, in other cases, it was the only way for a woman to earn money independently. Then there were the many daughters who had broken some rule and were forced by their family to temporarily prostitute themselves as a way to teach them a lesson. This often happened in samurai families.

# Kjeld Duits · 2008-12-16

The image in the 1000 Yen bill above is
of Natsume Soseki and not Hideyo Noguchi

# Puck · 2013-07-16

@Puck: Thanks! That was an embarrassing mistake. Fixed it!

# Kjeld Duits · 2013-07-16








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