November 25, 2019
by Ryusei Asamoto
Kyoto is known as the typical ancient Japanese city. There are many unique buildings and cultural things like temples, shrines and the way of building houses. Especially, you know about Maiko (Geisha) maybe. It is very popular in Japan as you know. You can not only take pictures with them but also dress up like them in Kyoto. However, do you know about Oiran? A lot of people think there’s no differences between Oiran and Maiko (Geisha). Let me tell you about it. First, let’s take a look at Oiran.
The Origin of Oiran
In the Edo period (1603~1868), the Tokugawa government approved Yukaku (licensed prostitution area) to make men obey easily and allow them to refresh themselves. At that time, regulations of Tokugawa government were strict, so citizens often revolted. Since then, a lot of Yukaku opened in all around Japan. There were many brothels of girls in Yukaku. The men could choose a girl from these brothels. The girls who worked there were prostitutes, called Asobime. Asobime had to make money to live because of their poverty.
In addition, there were ranks in Asobime. If the girl who the man chose had the lowest rank, her fee was relatively cheap. Obviously, the expensive brothels had girls who were more desirable, younger, more educated or prettier. The best Asobime was called Oiran.
The Duties of Oiran
What did Oiran have to do in the first place? Was it just hooking up with a customer? Drinking alcohol with him? The answer is “Yes”. Maybe, their job is harder than you think. As stated above, they had to drink alcohol and hook up with him. They had to act his wife, in other words. This is first difference between and Maiko (Geisha). Maiko didn’t need to sell sexual favors. What Maiko had to do is dancing or playing music instruments. Of course, but Oiran could dance and play music instruments too. Also, Oiran also accepted their clients as lovers as well as performing for them as entertainers.
In addition, Oiran had to spend the night with unspecified large number of men, they could be exposed to venereal disease always. If an Oiran got a disease, it meant she couldn’t continue to work as an Oiran. On the other hand, Maiko (Geisha) didn’t need to worry about venereal disease.
Maiko didn’t take time for guests who weren’t introduced by clients or through other social networks, but Oiran didn’t have such protection. It was important for Oiran to be available if a guest wanted to be looked after. In contrast to Oiran, who might receive a stranger as a customer, the guest needed an introduction by someone who had been to the Maiko’s shop in order to become a customer of the Maiko.
Oiran in the Present Day
In 1957, 4/1, the anti-prostitution law was released, so the traditional Oiran officially ceased to exist. However, you can see Oiran, which are close to real ones of old times in Toei Kyoto Studio Park. It reconstructs the shop which Oiran worked. If you are interested in Oiran, please visit there. You can see cultural things like Oiran’s clothes and pictures there.
↑Toei Kyoto Studio Park