Yoshiwara was the walled pleasure quarter of Edo. It was located at the northern outskirt of Edo.
There prostitution of all kinds was legal. Food, drink, and myriad entertainments - more or less innocuous - were available in abundance for those with money to pay for them. The district had originally been called ”reedy plain” after the land it occupied. Then some clever promoter had modified the characters of the name to mean ”lucky plain,” a euphemism that had endured. Still another name for it was the Nightless City: Yoshiwara never slept.
A moat and high earthen walls that encircled Yoshiwara. Two samurai clad in helmets and armor vests guarded the gate day and night. They watched over people passing through the gate’s roofed and ornamented portals. The guard also made sure no women escaped. Virtually all the yujo - courtesans - had been sold into prostitution by impoverished families, or sentenced to Yoshiwara as punishment for crimes. While some reigned over the quarter like princesses, enjoying their luxurious surroundings while tolerating men’s attentions, others, mistreated by cruel masters, led miserable lives. These often tried to flee through the gates disguised as servants or boys.
Yoshiwara hold rows of wooden buildings with bold signs advertising the teahouses - which sold not tea, but sake - shops, restaurants, and brothels, or pleasure houses. As the walls limited outward expansion, new businesses filled in the spaces between the older ones. A smell of stale wine and urine lingered in the air. Yoshiwara looked different depending on the time of the day. In the evening, when glowing paper lanterns hung from the eaves and beautiful courtesans solicited customers from within the barred, cage-like windows that fronted the pleasure houses, the quarter looked inviting and glamorous. While in the afternoon, with the unlit lanterns and empty cages, with bamboo screens pulled down behind the bars to hide the interiors of the buildings, one could see the inevitable signs of age: yellowed plaster, worn stone doorsteps, darkened wooden pillars.
Laws forbade samurai to visit the pleasure quarter, but since the laws were seldom enforced, members of their class frequented Yoshiwara openly, in droves. Disguise was unnecessary, except to add a touch of intrigue to the fun.