Read The Nightless City: Or the History of the Yoshiwara Yukwaku by J.E. de Becker Free Online
Book Title: The Nightless City: Or the History of the Yoshiwara Yukwaku|
The author of the book: J.E. de Becker
ISBN 13: 9784925080316
Edition: ICG Muse
Date of issue: February 1st 2003
Format files: PDF
The size of the: 3.40 MB
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Reader ratings: 3.2
Read full description of the books:
It's a monumental anthropological work about Yoshiwara (the most famous of Japan's licensed quarters), covering its history, customs, laws, regulations, superstitions, language, songs and sayings. De Becker gathered all this enormous material in the middle of the Meiji period, when the quarter was already experiencing its slow decline, and when many of its former celebrations and festivals had been discontinued. That was mainly due to financial costs, but also to the inner and outer pressure towards the change of the licensed prostitution system the government had been experiencing since the Maria Luz incident in 1872.
Yoshiwara, with its labyrinthine etiquette and enormous financial obligations imposed upon the clients, was losing its battle with cheaper and more straightforwardly businesslike places like Susaki, and was becoming outdated when De Becker wrote his book. Still, he managed to witness and describe events and festivities like Tamagiku lanterns or Niwaka Festival in vivid detail which make his work simply invaluable for researchers interested in the Meiji period, to the extent of being citied in Japanese works on the matter. He also collected and translated numerous documents: copies of brothel account books, courtesans' contracts, advertising leaflets, statistics of the Yoshiwara hospital (later the Taito Prefectural Hospital, closed only seven years ago), newspaper articles on the problem of licensed prostitution, trade certificates issued by the authorities etc.
It's true that the style is outdated and some of the more lyrical outbursts of the author may bring about a snicker or two, but that's just a secondary or tertiary thing compared to the wealth of material and the practical approach to the topic which was thousand times more sensitive in the age when De Becker wrote his book.
In the foreword to the new edition of "The Nightless City", Donald Richie criticizes the last chapter (titled "Golgotha") as the proof of De Becker's unnecessarily Christian and Western take on the problem, but I thought it actually showed that the author was fully able to reveal the compassion, tolerance and kindness towards the human beings whom he perceived as horribly wronged. And it's by no means the only place in the book. In the chapter titled "The Law Relating to Brothels" he says:
"It is not law, but custom which keeps them [the prostitutes] there, and there is many and many an innocent victim driven to these devilish institutions by customs which exalt profligate fathers and beastly brothers into authoritative beings for whom every sacrifice should be made — even that of chastity. To say a woman has sacrificed herself for the sake of her relations covers everything among the lower and more ignorant masses, and the only thing which would be effectual with these model fathers, mothers, and brothers, would be a thorough horse-whipping each and every time a case crops up; or better still, the cat-'o-nine-tails laid on by an expert until they howl for mercy. The efforts of the Japanese Government to abolish the evil of this servitude have been vigorous, but custom — that law of fools — has been too powerful [...]"
Yes, De Becker is awesome. And contrary to the crap which authors like Clavell or Burdett or even Nagai Kafu love to perpetuate, women of the more or less Mysterious Orient do not consider prostitution a great career, nor do they enjoy self-sacrifice more than their Occidental sisters would. I should know, I've been reading some firsthand accounts recently, and having nightmares about them. Hey Orientalist porn supporters, bite me!
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