Connections between relationships and the sex culture during the Edo period

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In recent years, there has been an increase of people who say that the Edo period was Japan’s ideal time period. It’s true that Edo was an advanced and leading-edge city, even when compared with other countries at the time. At Edo’s high point, the population was over a million.

It is also said that relationships between residents of Edo were strong and built on foundations of empathy, a quality rarely seen in the present. Since the bonds between residents were so solid, a society where people helped each other out naturally came into existence.

The Edo period, however, was not all good. Society was filled with relationships that modern people could not begin to fathom, no matter how enamored they were with Edo-period empathy.

It is said that prostitution thrived in this period of human relationships where “I’ll help you out in times of hardship, but save me the trouble of doing it constantly.”

Housing in the Edo period

Traditional Japanese houses are no longer mainstream, but they are still popular, and there are probably people who would like to live in one someday.

Traditional Japanese houses are wonderful examples of architecture that remain cool in the summer, but would not be recommended for young married couples. This is because these houses did not provide much in the way of privacy.

As mentioned above, the main feature of these houses was that they remained cool in the summer. In order to provide for this mechanism, they had as few walls as possible and employed paper screens along with sliding doors, etc. to allow for improved ventilation. To this end, most of the rooms were only separated by a paper door.

As one might expect, the thinness of these paper doors was not the best sound insulator. Voices and even movements passed straight through. Transoms were also used in order to help airflow, but they also ended up helping sound flow.

Under these conditions, sex for young couples who lived with their parents was a nerve-wracking experience. They would be immediately found out if they raised their voices, and they never knew when somebody would open the paper door.

Relationships in row houses

If you were of a high enough status to live in a traditional Japanese house, at least you were better off than the common folk who had to live in narrow row houses (houses with multiple residences lined up one after the other under the same roof).

To start off with, each row house was a one-room residence. There was no divider to protect your privacy whatsoever. This might work for couples without children, but for couples with kids, having sex always meant hiding it from the children, which could prove to be a difficult job.

The biggest threat to young couples was the neighborhood gossips, women who liked to spread rumors. There always seemed to be at least one of these women who lived in every row house. They would do kind things and take care of you, but they also loved gossip.

If a couple got even just a little carried away while having sex, they would almost certainly be fair game for these women.

A work titled Kanokomochi depicts a gossip and her companion peeking in from the back of a row house, enjoying the sight of a couple that has sex every morning.

And to the sex clubs

The thought “I don’t want to have sex under these conditions!” is one thing that hasn’t changed over the years. Under the conditions and relationships described above, having sex at your own home would be nothing but stress.

This is what caused the Edo sex culture to blossom. Men began to gather at yūkaku and okabasho, the equivalent of modern-day sex clubs. Of course, even at these establishments, only minimum privacy was guaranteed, but at least they were places intended for having sex. For men of the time, a place like this was preferable to having sex with their wives.

It should be noted that this is only one hypothesis for why sex culture flourished in Edo. We cannot say that this was the only factor. Psychologically speaking, though, it wouldn’t be surprising if the above phenomena led to this outcome.