help save Japan’s visual heritage of daily life
support
71203-0014 - Tobita red light district, Osaka, 1920s

Osaka 1920s
Tobita Red Light District

Artist Unknown
Publisher Unknown
Medium Postcard
Period Taisho
Location Osaka
Image No. 71203-0014
Purchase Digital File
Author

This early 20th century postcard shows brothels in the Tobita Yukaku (prostitution district) of Osaka.

The caption reads: “The charming samisen (sic) sounding constantly day and night at Tobita prostitute quarter, Osaka.” It wasn’t very charming for the women who worked here.

Tobita was founded as a licensed brothel district in 1916 (Taisho 5) after the Namba Shinchi Yukaku burned down. It immediately started to attract impoverished farm girls and wives fleeing abusive husbands and by 1918 (Taisho 7), it already counted 100 brothels. That number had risen to 200 by the early Showa Period (1925-1989).1

When Japan militarized during the 1930s, the area became a refuge for artists, musicians and people opposing war and militarization.

After the end of WWII, Tobita became Osaka’s largest brothel district employing thousands of prostitutes. Reputedly former U.S. first lady Eleanor Roosevelt toured the area in an open car and inquired about the health of the girls during this period.2

Tobita is where the infamous Sada Abe (1905-?) started her career as a prostitute in the early 1930s. She left Osaka for Tokyo in 1933. By that time, she was already known as a troublemaker.

On May 18, 1936 Abe erotically asphyxiated her lover, Kichizo Ishida in Ogu, Tokyo. She then cut off his penis and testicles and carried them around with her in her handbag.

Dubbed the “Go Ichi-Hachi Incident,” the murder started a panic in Japan. Ever since, the story has been repeatedly told in books and movies as well as interpreted by psychiatrists and philosophers.3

Tobita managed to survive the Anti-Prostitution Law of 1958 and exists to this very day. The 80-90 remaining brothels recall the atmosphere of this photograph a little. Located near Imaike Station on the Hankai Electric Railway line, Tobita is one of Japan’s last remaining traditional brothel districts. It is one of nine Kansai districts where prostitution is practiced openly.

Notes

1 Architectural Map, 鯛よし百番と飛田新地. Retrieved on 2008-01-02.

2 Johnston, Eric, Appetite for seduction: Love town where time stands still. Retrieved on 2008-01-02.

3 Wikipedia, Sada Abe. Retrieved on 2008-01-02.

Published
Updated

Leave a Comment

Reader Supported

Old Photos of Japan aims to be your personal museum for Japan's visual heritage and to bring the experiences of everyday life in old Japan to you.

To enhance our understanding of Japanese culture and society I track down, acquire, archive, and research images of everyday life, and give them context.

I share what I have found for free on this site, without ads or selling your data.

Your support helps me to continue doing so, and ensures that this exceptional visual heritage will not be lost and forgotten.

Thank you,
Kjeld Duits

support

Reference for Citations

Duits, Kjeld (). Osaka 1920s: Tobita Red Light District, OLD PHOTOS of JAPAN. Retrieved on June 21, 2024 (GMT) from https://www.oldphotosjapan.com/photos/47/tobita-red-light-district

Explore More

…

Tokyo 1872
Anjincho in Nihonbashi

Rackety wooden houses with shingled roofs in Tokyo’s Anjincho (安針町) in the Nihonbashi district.

…

Tokyo 1890s
Prostitutes in Cage

Prostitutes behind a window in the Yukaku (red light district) of Yoshiwara in Tokyo.

…

Tokyo 1890s
Geisha Houses, Shinbashi

A seemingly endless street full of geisha houses in Tokyo’s most elite geisha district of the Meiji Period, Shinbashi.

Add Comment

There are currently no comments on this article.