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70621-0002 - The Yoshiwara Brothel District of Tokyo, 1890s

Tokyo 1890s
Yoshiwara Brothels

Artist Unknown
Publisher Unknown
Medium Albumen Print
Period Meiji
Location Tokyo
Image No. 70621-0002
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Author

Brothels in the Yoshiwara red light district in Tokyo at the tail end of the 19th century. The architecture at the time was heavily influenced by Western ideas, although Yoshiwara still had a unique Japanese feel to it.

When Yoshiwara was first created in 1617, it was located near Nihonbashi. In the second half of the 17th century, it was moved out of the city to a spot nearby Asakusa and renamed Shin Yoshiwara (New Yoshiwara), but the shin was soon dropped.

Over the years, Yoshiwara repeatedly burned down. Each time it rose from the ashes, albeit with a totally new look. The total number of fires that ravaged the quarters in its new location is almost too large to grasp. Between January 10, 1677, when the first fire took place, and March 15, 1896, shortly before this photograph was taken, no less than 34 fires were counted.

Quite a few of them burned down most or all of Yoshiwara.

There is no pattern. One fire broke out in a bath-house, another in a tobacco store, another again in a buddhist temple and so on. Not only did the fires create much damage, but over the years many lives were lost.1

After this photo was shot, fires would once again destroy Yoshiwara. The most devastating ones happened in 1911 (Meiji44), 1923 (Taisho 12) and 1945 (Showa 20).

71129-0022 - Shin-Yoshiwara Great Fire of 1911 (Meiji 44)
Shin-Yoshiwara Brothels destroyed by the Great Fire (新吉原大火) of Apr 9, 1911 (Meiji 44).
70405-0011 - 1846  Map of Yoshiwara Brothel District
Map of Yoshiwara in 1846 (Kōka 3) from The Nightless City or the History of the Yoshiwara Yukwaku (1899).

see current map

As it is unclear at which brothel this photo was shot, the Current Map shows the location of the former entrance gate, the Omon (大門), located in current-day Senzoku 4-chome, Taito-ku (台東区千束4丁目).

Notes

1 De Becker, J. E. (1899). The Nightless City or the History of the Yoshiwara Yukwaku. Max Nössler & Co: 249-254.

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Reference for Citations

Duits, Kjeld (). Tokyo 1890s: Yoshiwara Brothels, OLD PHOTOS of JAPAN. Retrieved on May 27, 2022 (GMT) from https://www.oldphotosjapan.com/photos/275/yoshiwara-brothels

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I am so delighted and amazed at this collection of photographs. Almost every day I find a new treat in my in-box and you have all of this amazing extra information. This period of Japan is so fascinating, and the photos are so amazing. I feel so fortunate to have discovered both of your amazing sites. I especially love the constant mixing of east/west styles – and with you information about the fires in Yoshiwara, this is truly a rare moment frozen in time.

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@Llyn Hunter: What a surprise to find you here, too. Thank you for your kind words! I just received your artwork and sent you an e-mail a few minutes ago.

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