Names of Lower-Ranking Prostitutes
Lower-ranking prostitutes were the vast majority of women in the pleasure quarters, and their names survive by the tens of thousands in the saiken. However, they rarely appear in the literature of the day, and almost never in the translated scholarship, so I've had difficulty getting ahold of them. So far, I've found a single good resource: Amy Stanley's study Selling Women: Prostitution, Markets, and the Household in Early Modern Japan, which uses legal cases, contracts, and other non-pop-culture-related sources to investigate the lives of women who worked as ordinary prostitutes.
In the lists below, the women listed as "yūjo" were all prostitutes indentured to brothels. This use of the term "yūjo" is particular to Stanley—"yūjo" is actually a term for all prostitutes, not just brothel prostitutes. The names on this list came from Stanley, supplemented by all other available references to brothel prostitutes of less-than-oiran ranking.
Post-station prostitutes were officially employed as maids and teahouse waitresses at rest stops along the great highways of Japan. They were legally forbidden to practice prostitution, a law that was thoroughly ignored. The government responded in its usual self-contradictory way by limiting the number of maids or waitresses per establishment to two. (Translation: "Prostitution by maids or waitresses is illegal, so you may employ only two illegal prostitutes at a time.") Post-station prostitutes offered towns such an economic boost that officials generally ignored "excess" women, or even gave struggling post stations permission to employ more women—up to 500 more.
Stationed in the countryside, post-station prostitutes served an unelevated clientele—travelers, plus the local peasantry—and weren't given much (or any) artistic training. They didn't attract the attention of artists or writers, so they aren't represented in the art or literature of the time; the best sources of information on them are legal cases. The names on this list are all drawn from Stanley.
One distinction immediately stands out: Low-ranking brothel prostitutes' names are indistinguishable from courtesans' names, while post-station prostitutes have short, simple names that are similar or identical to ordinary women's names of the day. The only reason I can confirm that post-station prostitutes had professional names was a note that Some's real name was Hatsu.
This difference suggests a few theories:
Women who worked in the sex industry were expected to have professional names, even if those names didn't distinguish them from "respectable" women.
Prostitutes who worked in brothels all catered to the same fantasy of a "floating world" filled with fairylike creatures whose aristocratic, exotic names set them apart. This was true even if the particular outpost of the floating world was a tiny, shabby, three-woman brothel beside the Yoshiwara moat. (It would be interesting to find out whether certain names were more common at the top or bottom of the hierarchy, in much the same way that U.S. prostitutes are expected to have sexy working names, but a top-flight escort wouldn't be namedTiffani or Krystle.)
Prostitutes who weren't supposed to be engaging in prostitution had professional names that either:
- gave them plausible deniability, or
- were designed to be less intimidating to clients who were farther down the social scale, or
- catered to a different fantasy than the brothels.
Without more data, it's difficult to say which possibility is correct. It would be necessary to collect more post station prostitutes' names, as well as the names of "night hawks," "widows," and other semi-independent prostitutes, and the names of women working in illegal brothels that operated with more secrecy than post stations. (It would also be nice to find primary sources on the subject, but I'm not holding my breath.)
In the meantime, I can offer one more set of data:
Teahouse waitresses were the forerunners of post-station prostitutes. They weren't supposed to sell sex, but at teahouses located away from the pleasure quarters, many of them did. The two-waitresses-per-establishment rule was originally aimed at them. Teahouse waitresses working in the cities could become celebrated beauties whose portraits were sold alongside those of the leading oiran; the names on this list all belong to such stars.
These famous waitresses are presented as models of the respectable young woman, with obi tied behind and apron before. They're flirty and charming, but don't have the oirans' intimidating grandeur or claims to intellectual accomplishment—their appeal is more girl-next-door, amped up with a touch of high fashion. Their names, too, are girl-next-door. O-kita, O-sen, and O-han are the Edo-period equivalent of Elizabeth, Sarah, and Anne.
Many of the waitresses on this list may not have been prostitutes; at least two of them were daughters of the teahouse owner, which doesn't preclude their being prostitutes but does make it unlikely. It also makes it more likely that the famous teahouse waitresses went by their birth names. However, women who may not have sold sex were presented as paragons of a class of women who did sell sex. Their example may have influenced other waitresses; a prostitute indentured to a teahouse a hundred miles from her parents' home might aspire to the style of a waitress working under the protection of her well-off family, and that style might include the waitress's girl-next-door name as well as her stylish hairdo and the cutting-edge decoration of her kimono. Even if the post-station prostitutes working far from the cities and generations later never saw pictures of O-kita or O-sen, they might have inherited a working culture shaped by O-kita's and O-sen's example.
Note: Names are given as they appear in the source. Therefore teahouse waitress's names are preceded by the honorific O- because they came from the titles of ukiyo-e prints, while the post station prostitutes' names came from Stanley, who doesn't add honorifics. In practice, all of the women on this page would have been addressed with the honorific O- if their name was one or two syllables long: O-jishi, O-man, O-some.
Names of Lower-Ranking Brothel Prostitutes
|Asazuma||Maruyama yūjo, 1750's||Stanley|
|Hanaginu||Yoriai yūjo, 18th century?||Stanley|
|Hanazato||Yoriai yūjo, 1760's||Stanley|
|Hatsuura||Yoriai yūjo, 1760's||Stanley|
|Jishi||Merciful one? (慈氏)||Yūjo||link|
|Kazuraki||"Harlot" from the seaside town of Sakai, 1680's||Saikaku, The Life of an Amorous Man|
|Koeda||Mitarai yūjo, 1860's||Stanley|
|Mikawa||Maruyama yūjo, 18th century||Stanley|
|Miyukino||Maruyama yūjo, 1810's||Stanley|
|Ryōzan||Maruyama yūjo, 1730's||Stanley|
|Sonogi||Maruyama yūjo, 1820's||Stanley|
|Takasaki||"Harlot" from the seaside town of Sakai, 1680's||Saikaku, The Life of an Amorous Man|
|Tanba no Tsubone||丹波局. Name of a shirabyōshi (medieval dancer and courtesan) who was the mother of one of Emperor Go-Toba's daughters. Later borne by a less elevated yūjo.||Yūjo||link|
|Wakamatsu||Maruyama yūjo, 18th century||Stanley|
|Wakaura||Maruyama yūjo, 1750's||Stanley|
|Yoshino||Yoshino was a popular name for prostitutes from the heights of the courtesans' hierarchy to the depths of the lowest brothels. It even shows up as a name for kamuros.||Tsubone-jorou, Shinmachi||Saikaku, The Life of an Amorous Woman|
Names of Post-Station Prostitutes
|Koyo||Post-station prostitute, Ichinomiya Station, 19th century?||Stanley|
|Man||Post-station prostitute, Koshigaya Station, 1810's||Stanley|
|Masu||Post-station prostitute in Kantō, 1840's||Stanley|
|Nao||Post-station prostitute, Sōka Station, 1810's||Stanley|
|Some||Post-station prostitute, Kizaki Station, 1830's||Stanley|
Names of Teahouse Waitresses
|Ohan||お半||Teahouse waitress, Edo, 1790's||Chōbunsai Eishi|
|Ohisa||おひさ. Waitress at the Takashima teahouse, which was owned by her father. She worked there from the age of 14.||Teahouse waitress, Edo, 1790's||Chōbunsai Eishi|
|Okita||Teahouse waitress, Edo (?), 1790's||Kitagawa Utamaro|
|Omina||おみな||Teahouse waitress, Edo (Asakusa), 1790's||Katsukawa Shuncho|
|Omoyo||Teahouse waitress, Edo, 1790's||Chōbunsai Eishi|
|Osen||お仙. Waitress at the Kasamori teashop, which was owned by her father. One of the three most famous beauties of her day, her legend lasted long after her marriage and retirement from public life.||Teahouse waitress, Edo, 1790's||Harunobu|
|Oseyo||おせよ||Teahouse waitress, Edo, 1790's||Kitagawa Utamaro|
|Otatsu||おたつ||Teahouse waitress, Edo, 1790's||Chōbunsai Eishi|
|Oyoshi||およし||Teahouse waitress, 1760's||Harunobu|