Stephanie Van Rentergem

Prostitution in Japan has been a much studied subject in recent years. The state-sanctioned, highly regulated prostitution practised in the so-called enclosed quarters (kuruwa) of the Edo period (1600-1868) in particular, with their glamour and their stars—at least among the high-ranked courtesans—as well as their intricate systems of etiquette and customs, has long intrigued academics and laypeople alike, not least because of the many literary representations of the subject.

            However, the contemplation of the outward trappings of the licensed quarters makes it easy to lose sight of the mundane reality underlying this glittering fantasy world, a reality in which ordinary women, regardless of their rank within the system, had to contend with all the unremarkable vicissitudes of life: drudgery, fun, boredom, excitement, hunger and thirst, satisfaction, illness, good health, and every other facet of human existence. All this, combined with the interhuman relations they experienced, served to influence and even, to a considerable degree, bring about these women's physical, mental, and emotional states of health, the levels of all three determining their individual well-being. The process behind this is what interests me and is what I, with the aid of a wide selection of Edo-period texts and modern scholarship, am currently researching.