Ascribing agency? Male views on kuruwa prostitutes in Edo Japan



Scholarly work on the Edo-period pleasure quarters, both licensed (kuruwa) and otherwise (okabasho), has long been attempting to build a more precise picture of the life of female sex workers of the time. As such research focuses predominantly on the women themselves and the difficulties they had to contend with, their male masters and clients are generally depicted in a negative light. Even though recent anthropological fieldwork has begun to bring some nuance to the perception of men who purchase prostitutes' services, it cannot be denied that the experiences of men as clients so far remain underanalyzed, and the same can be said concerning research on historical periods. However, attentive reading of Edo-period texts produced by men, fictional and nonfictional, reveals not only a surprisingly high level of respect for the essential humanity and independent agency of female sex workers, but also a high frequency of lasting, mutually satisfactory relationships and a deep-seated need for such relationships on the part of the men, for a variety of reasons. In discussing the subject, this thesis will neither attempt to romanticize female sex work nor gloss over the reality of their working conditions. It will seek instead to ask how and to what extent men affiliated with female sex workers were influenced by their experiences with these women, and so add a new perspective to research on Edo-period prostitution.