Edo-Era Prostitution Revisited in Seduction: Japan's Floating World


If there's one thing that all humans have in common, it would probably be an interest in sex. Some of us like it, some of us love it, and most of us do it. Japan is obviously no exception, and historically has held some of the most impressive red-light districts in the world — particularly during Edo-Period Japan (roughly 1615-1868). It was at this time that large villages were erected (no pun intended) in order to facilitate relationships between prostitutes and customers.

Edo (or what we in present day know as Tokyo) held one of the most expansive of these districts, Yoshiwara. Separated from the city by a moat and gate, Yoshiwara was kind of like an Edo-era Las Vegas, where the promise of sex and entertainment became synonymous with the location.

[jump] Fast-forward to present day San Francisco, and we can see these same fascinations and desires still hold true. Whether it’s a walk through North Beach’s strip club section, or a glance at the stats on active Tinder users, it’s safe to say that while tastes and trends might change, sex is one of those wonderful things that really just never goes out of style.

With this in mind, the Asian Art Museum presents Seduction: Japan’s Floating World, an exhibition opening this Friday, Feb. 20 and running through May 10, with an opening party Thursday, Feb. 19, from 7 to 11 p.m. The exhibit features over 60 works from or inspired by the prostitute village of Yoshiwara — be it beautifully ornate “seduction kimonos,” traditional style woodblock prints, or a massive 58-foot-long scroll depicting various Yoshiwara activities that dates back to 1694. And while plenty of the pieces embody a fun, carefree attitude toward sex and the sex workers, the museum of course also takes a look at the darker, more complicated matters that surrounded Edo-era prostitution.

These pieces will be on display next week, following Thursday's party, which is titled Courtesans, Cooks, Samurai and Servants — designed to mimic themes from Yoshiwara. While the museum obviously can’t offer prostitution, flirting with fellow museum members is pretty much always allowed — and there are still other vices that can be indulged in — such as food, drinks, and dancing. DJed by Proof (Massive Selector), the party also includes live poetry writing, photo booths, and live performances by acclaimed (and wonderfully eccentric) performance artist, Midori.

Asian Art Museum presents “Courtesans, Cooks, Samurai and Servants” at 7 p.m. and continues through 11 p.m. at the Asian Art Museum, 200 Larkin St., S.F. Tickets are $10-$20; call 581-3500 or visit asianart.org


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