Angelika Koch (University of Cambridge)
Nightless Cities: Timing the Pleasure Quarters in Edo Japan
Tokugawa Japan’s licensed prostitution quarters have often been described as the anti-thesis of the everyday, a space separate from the normality of life in the cities in terms of mores, as well as physical location. This ‘otherness’ also found expression with regard to time and the rhythms of life in the quarters, which became ‘nightless cities’, where ‘dawn was breaking when the sun set over the city’, as a comic poem from the period would have it. Moreover, the pleasure quarters did not only have their distinct annual festivals and idiosyncratic jargon, they also had their own units of time that applied when costumers engaged women for pleasure, and their ways of measuring these. In fact, certain classes of prostitutes and geisha entertainers were remunerated on a time-based system, which seems to have differed significantly across regions, providing a fairly rare example of work being ‘paid by the hour’ in early modern Japan. Drawing on a range of sources including documents, guides to the pleasure quarters and fictional accounts, this talk will explore the pleasure quarters as an early modern ‘timescape’, discussing the time markers, announcement and measurement methods and relevant to pleasure quarter life at the time.