People passing through the Omon main gate of the Yoshiwara brothel district in Tokyo, featuring the statue of the goddess Benten.
Originally created in 1617, Yoshiwara was first located near Nihonbashi, but it was moved out of the city to a spot nearby Asakusa during the second half of the 17th century. It was surrounded by a moat and had a single guarded entrance gate, the Omon.
The original gate was made of wood and had a crossbar in a style called Kabukimon (冠木門). It was replaced by a wrought iron gate in the spring of 1881 (Meiji 14). This gate consisted of two disconnected posts with gas lights on top. The posts were later connected with an arch featuring a statue of the goddess Benten.
The gate featured a poem by the famous dramatist and educator Genichiro Fukuchi (福地源一郎, 1841-1906). The poem read “A dream of springtide when the streets are full of the cherry blossoms. Tidings of the autumn when the streets are lined on either side with lighted lanterns.” (春夢正濃満街桜雲。秋信先通両行灯影。)1
The poem consisted of four sentences of four characters each and referred to two popular customs of Yoshiwara.
In Spring, cherry trees were planted along the center of the main street, Nakanocho. In the evening, when thousands of colored lanterns and flashing electric lamps lit up the sea of light pink blossom and women in gorgeous kimono, it must have appeared like a scene from a fantastic dream.
Autumn was announced by hanging lanterns (灯籠) in front of each establishment in Nakanocho. This was done during the seventh month of the old lunar calendar (August on our modern calendar). Artificial flowers were placed between the lanterns, some of which featured art by celebrated painters. Visitors of the time often remarked on the incredible beauty of these lights. At a time when cities were not yet brightly lit, Yoshiwara with its lanterns of autumn must have seemed truly magical.2
In The Nightless City or the History of the Yoshiwara Yukwaku., published in 1899, there is a detailed description and history of the custom3:
The Yoshiwara Omon was destroyed, as was most of Yoshiwara, in the Great Kanto Earthquake of September 1, 1923.
A horse-drawn carriage has just passed through the Sakashita-mon gate, while three jinrikisha (rickshaws) are waiting for passengers. In the back the Kunaisho (Imperial Household) building can be seen.