Japan has continued to preserve large numbers of historic records since ancient times. Precious archives were lost during the Pacific War, but, when compared with the rest of the world, a large number of historical documents remain.
Prostitution, in particular, has continuously and greatly impacted Japanese history. Examples of the tradition of prostitution that have changed form and still exist in present-day Japan are soaplands, etc.
However, there is a remarkable shortage of historical documents relating to sex culture. The fact that there are so few documents makes it difficult to grasp how prostitution transpired in Japan in the past.
Just because there are no documents regarding prostitution from a certain era, though, does not mean that there was no prostitution. Documents may not remain, but prostitution definitely existed. But then why are there so few documents regarding prostitution in Japan?
The guilt and shame of prostitution
Compared with the rest of the world, Japan has a very tolerant history of prostitution. That does not mean, however, there was no sense of scorn with respect to prostitution. Regardless of the level of prostitution, the accompanying feelings of guilt and shame remained the same.
Even today, it is extremely rare to find a girl who would boast to her family about working at a soapland. Most girls would not openly announce their background of working at such a club. This is because there is shame hidden behind the act of selling one’s body.
The hesitation to handle prostitution publicly
This sense of shame can also be related to documents. For example, there may be literature addressing prostitution in any given library. However, the vast majority of such documents would be analytical papers or academic records.
Make no mistake – you will not find information magazines or newspapers on soaplands and delivery health in any public library.
However, in the distant future, even sex club magazines will be important historical materials. This is because the social structure and situation of a given time period can be discerned from such documents.
I believe this type of thing can be said of any time period. Even during ancient times, documents regarding prostitution and the sex industry, which were considered vulgar, were not handled as public records.
As a result, none of these documents remain, and historical records regarding prostitution are extremely rare.
Why so few useful historical papers remain
That being said, if there were absolutely no remaining documents regarding prostitution, then research on the topic would be impossible. Such documents are rare, but do exist.
However, historical materials containing useful information are few and far between. The reason is that, in most cases, the author of documents regarding prostitution is not an active prostitute, but rather a high-class individual.
The literacy rate of the class of women practicing prostitution was rather low, and it was not possible for them to write about their experiences.
For example, during the Heian period, when yūjo (prostitutes of the past) started to appear, an individual known as Sugawara no Takasue no musume wrote a memoir called the Sarashina Diary.
Within this memoir is an entry titled “An Account of yūjo,” which describes Nanba, a city near present-day Osaka, consisting of a number of brothel districts at the time.
However, only superficial scenes are depicted such as “On the streets, you could hear the flirtatious voices of the yūjo.”
Of course, with only those types of expressions, it is impossible to understand detailed information about yūjo during that time period. As a result, even though this work is useful in understanding urban environments during the time, it is not appropriate for use as research material on prostitution.
Research on prostitution is a very important aspect for understanding ancient Japanese culture. Therefore, it is important to find a way to perform the research and somehow make up for the lack of historical documents.