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 (Taisho 12), 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).
An additional 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.
Not only Jimpuro moved. The whole of Yokohama’s licensed prostitution quarter actually moved several times during its existence. In 1866 (Keio 2), a disastrous fire erased the original licensed quarter of Miyozaki-cho. A new one was built to the west, but this one burned 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
Jimpuro was not only popular with foreigners, but with Japanese men as well. In 1900 (Meiji 33), 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 Rockefeller Institute of Medical Research, and very appropriately isolated the syphilis bacterium.
Noguchi 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 in the Themes menu.
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 Jimpuro brothel (2).
2 Metadata database of Japanese old photographs in Bakumatsu-Meiji Period. Jimpuro (3).
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.
Reference for Citations
Duits, Kjeld (). Yokohama 1890s: Nectarine No. 9 Brothel, OLD PHOTOS of JAPAN. Retrieved on October 1, 2022 (GMT) from https://www.oldphotosjapan.com/photos/284/nectarine-no-9-brothel
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