Being a collector of kimonos and other Japanese items, my interest was peaked by a print that was very dark but still showing the image of an oiran. The spectacular and elaborate designs on the kimono and obi was what had caught my eye. Finding out what this image really was about got me hooked on this type of prints.

There is a large variety of prints about oiran and tayû, two different names from different cities indicating the same type of person, and because they show off at its best the kimonos and obis that were worn by these women, I have chosen to start collecting the ones that contain full-size standing doll-like figures, preferably in front of the typical fence, lamps and cherry blossom tree at night.

These images intrigue me most because they don´t really indicate a specific person, we find the same image with different references for the oiran and the house that she worked for, but are merely showing a very regal and luxurious fully dressed person that basicallly is selling sex for a living. This big contrast is really what makes these images so interesing. The apparent innocence of the image that compares with the harshness of the actual job being advertised.

The prints are based on actual situations and the kimonos have designs that were actually worn in those days. An engraving from the 1880's shows striking similarities with the kimonos on two prints from the collection.

The collection consists of good and bad quality prints. The idea was to have a good view of the variety of kimono designs that was used and the typical images and themes that were used in the interesting world of the Japanese courtesan.

These pages are not an antropological investigation of the subject of prostitution in the Japan of the 19th century, but a possibility to enjoy the designs and colours of the kimonos used by these women. If you are interested in reading more on prostitution and the world that the tayû and oiran lived in and suffered either by choice or forced, read theThe Nightless City, written by J.E. de Becker, first published in 1899. I found a copy on the internet, it is here if you are interested.

The OIRAN and TAYU had to have an extensive wardrobe and accessories for their daily activities. Here a set of postcards that show the wardrobe of Wakatae-san and how it was all put together for her evening parade, know as DÔCHÛ, in the YOSHIWARA to sell their wares.

oiran wardrobeoiran parade

Next to the spectacular kimonos they wore they also had a very expansive set of hair combs and pins. Below some examples of the combs that were used in sets of 2 or 3 and an example of a hair pin of which there were several as can be seen on the prints. These particular ones are made of tortoise shell and are amazingly light.

The main scenery used for these prints are flowering cherry trees and bushes surrounded by fencing and lamps.
The following postcard shows us what it really looked like.

Tokyo Yoshiwara 1883
Photograph from 1883. Yoshiwara in Tokyo. Reproduction.

Tokyo Yoshiwara Taisho Era postcard
Postcard. Yoshiwara, Tokyo.

Yoshiwara in Yokohama
Postcard early 1900's: Yoshiwara in Yokohama

Yoshiware 1910
Postcard 1910s. Yoshiware in Tokyo.

'Interior of the Yoshiwara in Yedo'
Engraving, dated 1880
PROVENANCE: "Illustrated Travels: a record of Discovery, Geograpby, and Adventure.
Edited by H.W. Bates"; Published by Cassell Petter & Galpin, London, Paris & New York

I hope you will enjoy these spectacular images.