There is a temple called Jokanji (浄閑寺) near Minowa Station on the Hibiya Line. At Jokanji Temple, there are graves where prostitutes from Yoshiwara Yukaku (遊郭, a licensed red light district) were buried.
On the left side of Jokanji Temple gate, there is a Sayoginu Jizo statue. Sayoginu (小夜衣), a prostitute from Yoshiwara Yukaku, was burned at the stake because an arson was pinned on an her. There were fires in Yoshiwara Yukaku on the first, second, and sixth anniversary of her death. People in Yoshiwara Yukaku believed these were from her grudge. People prayed for her, and then fires stopped.
There are graveyards on the left side of the Jokanji Temple main hall. Jokanji Temple came before Yoshiwara Yukaku, and there are many graves of local people.
When you enter the gate of the graveyard, you can see the grave of Wakamurasaki (若紫) immediately on the right side.
Wakamurasaki was a very beautiful and popular oiran (花魁, high-grade courtesan) at the Kadoebi (角海老) brothel. She was from Osaka and worked in Yoshiwara Yukaku from where she was 17 years old. She would be able to finish her work by 22 and get married to her boyfriend, but she was killed by a guest just five days before she would retire.
There is a big gravestone behind the main hall. This is the grave of Yoshiwara Yukaku prostitutes. This grave was built in 1793 and rebuilt in 1929. The number of prostitutes who were buried there was about 20,000. The average age at death was 21.7 years old, according to the death register of Jokanji Temple.
When the Great Ansei Earthquake happened in 1855, Yoshiwra Yukaku was almost entirely burned and many prostitutes died. The prostitutes’ bodies were thrown away at Jokanji Temple, so this temple is also called nagekomi dera (投げ込み寺, thrown away temple).
The monument of this grave is written, “they live hard lives and when they die they come to Jokanji Temple.” Most of the prostitutes were bought for money or born in the yukaku. They spent their lives almost entirely within yukaku. They prostituted from age 17 to 27, but most girls died around 23 years old because of syphilis or other diseases.
When you turn to the side of the grave, you can see boxes of bones through the fence. Nobuyoshi Araki (荒木経惟), also known by the nickname Arākī, is a famous photographer and born near Jokanji Temple. He was named by a chief priest of the temple. He often went inside of the mass grave and threw bones with his friends in his childhood before it was locked.
You can see combs and cosmetics on the grave. People come to pray for the prostitutes nowadays.
In front of the grave, there is a monument of Kafū Nagai (永井荷風). He was an essayist in the early 20th century and wrote essays, especially about geisha, prostitutes, and cabaret dancers. He liked to visit here and wanted to be buried at this temple. Though he was buried in another cemetery after his death, his friends made this monument.
Jokanji Temple is near to not only Yoshiwara red light district, but also the biggest flophouse area of Tokyo, called Sanya (山谷). Next to the monument of Kafu Nagai, there is a Himawari Jizo statue, praying for day laborers.
[How to go] Jokanji Temple is located a 3 minute walk from Minowa Station (三ノ輪駅) on the subway Hibiya Line (日比谷線)
Jokanji Temple (浄閑寺) : 2 Chome 1-12 Minamisenju, Arakawa, Tokyo (東京都荒川区南千住2-1-12)
yūkaku (遊郭, 遊廓) : licensed red light district, famous yukaku are Yoshiwara Yukaku in Tokyo and Tobita Shinchi in Osaka
yūjo (遊女), joro (女郎), shougi (娼妓) : licensed prostitutes in yukaku
Kadoebi (角海老) : the most famous and high-grade brothel in Yoshiwara Yukaku in the 17 century, there are Kadoebi Soapland groups nowadays, but they have no relationship and their name was taken from Kadoebi
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