…many women went into the trade as indentured-sold by family, agents, kidnappers…
~Donald Richie from his foreword to The Nightless City-History of the Yoshiwara Yukwaku by J.E. deBecker, IGC Muse, Inc. 2000
In its time the Yoshiwara Pleasure Quarter was a fortified city-within-a-city in what is present day Tokyo. Though built and regulated by the shogunate it was the only place in Japanese society where all social classes could freely intermingle and enjoy what the district had to offer in adult entertainment.While most of the women living and working there came to prostitution via force or coercion their lifestyle would become the inspiration for polite society’s hot trends, much like today’s celebrities and fashion icons. The woodblock artists of the time were like modern day paparazzi selling prints of the most popular prostitutes and actors of the day.
The first class houses employed the top tier Oiran who commanded high fees, wore the finest silks and paraded through the streets with grand entourages as seen in the film Sakuran, to the lower priced girls displayed in street level windows of their brothels as portrayed in one of my favorite films The Sea is Watching.
Hannah Connolly, the heroine of Samurai Captive, finds herself not only an the unwilling resident of one such low end brothel but also the Yoshiwara’s star attraction-the mysterious and exotic western woman who survived the fatal attack on British businessman C.L. Richardson and his traveling companions near Yokohama in the autumn of 1862.
Far from being a shrinking violet type Hannah has certainly become one of my favorite characters with her no-.nonsense way of looking that things. I’d probably have been scared spitless to find myself in her predicament, but Hannah’s reaction to being gawked at from beyond the red slatted window was that if the men of Edo who came to peep wanted a “show” she’d give them one.
While the majority of Hannah’s “audience” was too timid to do more than stare, samurai Sanada Katsuhiro was a man accustomed to taking what he wanted, when he wanted it.What he wanted was the white woman with the spirit of a tigress.And that didn’t set too well with his lifelong friend and sometime lover Masato who wasn’t about to let some foreigner-some woman, take his place in Katsu’s life.
I’d love to hear what you think of Hannah’s story.