Nowadays Yoshiwara is the largest red light district in Japan. It has many special bathrooms known as soaplands. Yoshiwara was previously called yūkaku, which had been a licensed red light district since the 17th century. It became a soapland area after the Anti-Prostitution Law was passed in 1958.
Yoshiwara is north of Asakusa, in 4 cho-me Senzoku, Taito-ku. The closest stations are Minowa Station, Minami-Senju Station, or Asakusa Station, but it takes more than 15 minutes walk from the train, so most men take a taxi from Ueno Station or Uguisudani Station. It is close to Sanya, which is the biggest flophouse area in Tokyo.
Yūkaku were Japanese licensed pleasure quarters, which were established in 1619 and continued until 1946. Girls lived in and prostituted in yukaku and were isolated from ordinary places, but you can still see vestiges of yukaku even now.
The Yoshiwara Omon crossing is in 4 cho-me Senzoku. Yoshiwara Omon means gate of Yoshiwara and it was the entrance of Yoshiwara Yukaku. Even now, this crossing is the gate of a red light district.
There is a willow tree next to a gas station at Yoshiwara Omon crossing. This willow is called Mikaeri Yanagi(looking-back willow), because men from Yoshiwara Yukaku looked back at yukaku reluctantly.
When you step into Yosiwara Yukaku, there are still ordinary things like convenience stores and newspaper stands lining the street. However, you will notice that the street meanders unnaturally. This is said to make an S-curve to keep people from seeing inside the red light district.
There is a police box after going through the S-curve. There used to be a gate into Yoshiwara Yukaku and guard station to watch for girls trying to escape from the yukaku. After the police box, the street becomes straight. This is Nakanocho Street, which is the main street of Yoshiwara. Even now, the division of the red light district is almost visible.
When Yoshiwara was Yukaku, there used to be high walls and moats around Yoshiwara Yukaku to keep harlots from escaping. And Yoshiwara Yukaku was on an embankment surrounded by moats. Nowadays the moats have been filled in, but if you look carefully you can see the area is higher than its surroundings. Yoshiwara Park has stairs because of its higher elevation.
Yoshiwara Yukaku used to have several sections divided by every street. Even now streets and sections are almost the same and you can see them on a map easily.
All the streets in Yoshiwara run diagonally, instead of vertically or horizontally north and south. It is said it’s because Yoshiwara Yukaku was designed so that guests’ heads would not face north in any sleeping position. To sleep with the head to the north is unlucky in Japan.
When you walk Nakanocho Street, you can see many suspicious shops that are Japanese brothels. After WWII, prostitution was prohibited and Yukaku were closed. At that time Yoshiwara became the largest soapland area in Tokyo.
[How to go] a 15 minute walk from Minowa Station or Minami-Senju Station
Next Page: Yoshiwara (2) – The Women’s Side Of Town
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