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Japanese Entry 3: Oiran


This is a woman of the highest rank of courtesan in the red-light district of Edo known as the Oiran (花魁). Oiran are not simply prostitutes. They are highly educated in poetry, art, witty conversation, dance and are very adept at playing several traditional instruments. Women would have to be exceptionally beautiful, intelligent, and skilled in the arts in order to have just a hope of reaching this rank. They were the only women in this profession that could pick and choose customers. Even when a possible candidate came along, he would have to go through a long process simply to meet her, all while paying. There is no vulgarity or insulting an Oiran while being with her. A man must me at his utmost respectable behavior, lest the Oiran reject him after he had already paid large sums of money just to see her. For a typical commoner to spend a night with an Oiran it would take almost a years’ worth of wages and many men would only dream of seeing them. Most customers were wealthy lords, samurai, or merchants and their patronage to the oiran essentially kept the brothel afloat. Without the Oiran, the brothels would cease to exist, and as such these women were heavily guarded. They would also be nicknamed kesei(契情) or castle destroyer. This name implied that these women could bring a man to his feet with a single glance, much like a castle falls to an army. Despite this apparent power however, most courtesans did not last long in their profession. The work hours were long, abuse was commonplace, and disease was also a factor. The average lifespan of a courtesan who was not bought out by a patron as a wife was 23 years old. While they were powerful, fashion and trend setters, could be more assertive then a “respectable” woman, Oiran were still bound to danger most of the time.

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