Oiran and Tayū Resources
It's easy to find books that talk about Japanese courtesans. It's hard to find books about Japanese courtesans that aren't a ripoff of Seigle's Yoshiwara: The Glittering World of the Japanese Courtesan or de Becker's The Nightless City. This list contains only books that have something new to add.
Seigle, Cecilia Segawa. Yoshiwara: The Glittering World of the Japanese Courtesan. University of Hawaii Press: 1993.
The most thorough study of the Yoshiwara in the English language. Most English-language discussions of the Japanese pleasure districts rely heavily on this book, if they don't crib from it outright. Read this book from cover to cover and don't pick up any other resource until you've finished it.
A courtesan's day: hour by hour, ed. Newland, Amy Reigle. Hotei Publishing, Amsterdam: 2004.
"A day in the life of the pleasure district" was a popular topic for genre pictures. This book goes through three series of images (only one of which is about courtesans--the other two are of geisha or a mix of female types), giving the cultural background and unfolding the pictures' literary associations. Of particular interest is Cecilia Segawa Seigle's chapter, "The Courtesan's Clock: Utamaro's Artistic Idealization and Kyōden's Literary Expose, Antithetical Treatments of a Day and a Night in the Yoshiwara."
De Becker, J. E. The Nightless City, or, The History of the Yoshiwara Yūkwaku. Z. P. Maruya & Co., Ltd., Yokohama: 1899.
An anthropological and historical study of the Yoshiwara done in the late 1890's, when the Yoshiwara was deep into its final decline. If you can get through the moralizing, it's a rich miscellany of obscure facts.
Fiévé, Nicholas. "Chapter 2: Social Discrimination and Architectural Freedom in the Pleasure District of Kyoto in Early Modern Japan," in Japanese Capitals in Historical Perspective: Place, Power and Memory in Kyoto, Edo and Tokyo. Eds. Nicholas Fiévé and Paul Waley. Psychology Press: 2003.
Gerstle, C. Andrew. 18th Century Japan: Culture and Society. Routledge: 2000.
Hockley, Allan. The Prints of Isoda Koryūsai: Floating World Culture and Its Consumers in Eighteenth-century Japan. University of Washington Press: 2003.
Miyamoto Yukiko. "Yoshiwara in the Reign of Meiji, an analysis of 'Yoshiwara-Saiken'" (明治期の吉原 : 「吉原細見」の分析を通して(箭内健次先生喜寿記念号). 1986.
A detailed analysis of Meiji-period saiken, including tables of the number of women at each rank per year; the age of prostitutes (p. 192); and fees per year (p. 208) . Downloadable through CiNii PDF.
Ono, Susumu, 1909-1980. 小野晋. Kinsei shoki yujo hyobanki shu. 近世初期遊女評判記集. Tokyo : Koten Bunko, Showa 40  2 v. (O.J. PL721.P7 O56 1965)
Rogers, Lawrence. "She Loves Me, She Loves Me Not: Shinjū and Shikidō Ōkagami," in Monumenta Nipponica, Vol. 49, No. 1 (Spring, 1994), pp. 31-60.
An examination of the methods women of the Yoshiwara used to convince their clients that they truly loved them. Contains a complete translation of the "Shinjū" chapter of The Great Mirror of the Way of Love (Shikidō Ōkagami).
Screech, Timon. Sex and the Floating World: Erotic Images in Japan 1700-1820, 2nd ed. Reaktion Books: 2009.
Bogged down with psychological theorizing, but an informative read nonetheless.
Stanley, Amy. Selling Women: Prostitution, Markets, and the Household in Early Modern Japan. University of California Press: 2012.
Travels through five times and places in Japan, discussing the social implications of prostitution and showing how communities both altered and were altered by prostitution. Four of the five chapters give a rare look at prostitution outside the Yoshiwara, including:
- An early mining town where men were allowed—even forced—to treat their wives as capital, denying women rights they would have in later years because of the economic importance of the mine.
- The countryside way stations where "waitresses" served more than tea, and officials struggled with a conundrum: Local men ruined their families financially at the teahouses, but the presence of the waitresses encouraged economic development.
- The licensed quarter of Maruyama in Nagasaki, where courtesans were allowed to leave the quarter to visit the Dutch and Chinese traders' quarters. Unique among pleasure quarters, the women of Maruyama were locals, and some of them still lived at home with their parents.
Yamashiro Yukiko. "A Study of the "Yoshiwara-Saiken" (吉原細見)" (吉原細見」の研究 : 元禄から寛政期まで(木代修一先生喜寿記念号)). 1976.
Contains invaluable tables of information, including:
- A map of the Yoshiwara, with distances and area measurements (p. 116)
- The titles of Yoshiwara saiken (Table 2, pp. 117-118)
- Rank names and fees by the year of their appearance in the saiken--this table is printed backward, with the first rows on the second page (Table 4, pp. 126-127)
- The number of monbi (holidays on which courtesans' fees increased) per year (Table 5, p. 131)
- The number of tayū per year (Table 6, p. 132)
- The total number of prostitutes in the Yoshiwara by year, divided into the total number (?) and unranked women (Table 7, p. 133)
Downloadable through CiNii PDF.
Yonemoto, Marcia. "Chapter 5: Remapping Japan: Satire, Pleasure and Place in Late Tokugawa Fiction," in Mapping Early Modern Japan: Space, Place and Culture in the Tokugawa Period, 1603-1868.
Translations of Historical Works
Early Modern Japanese Literature: An Anthology. Ed. Shirane, Haruo. Columbia University Press: 2004.
This anthology contains lively and well-annotated translations of many seminal works that can't be found in translation elsewhere, along with the woodcuts originally designed to accompany them. These works in particular are recommended:
- Inaka Rōjin Tada no Jijii, The Playboy Dialect (Yūshi Hōgen). 1770.
The founding work of the genre of sharebon, books of wit and fashion that both documented and lampooned the art of being a sophisticate of the pleasure quarters.
- Koikawa Harumachi, Mr. Glitter 'n' Gold's Dream of Splendor (Kinkin Sensei Eiga no Yume). 1775.
- Santō Kyōden, "The Tender-Loving Technique" and "The True-Feeling Technique" from Forty-Eight Techniques for Success with Courtesans (Keiseikai Shijuu Hatte). 1790.
- Santō Kyōden, Grilled and Basted Edo-Born Playboy (Edo Umare Uwaki no Kabayaki). 1785.
- Santō Kyōden, Fast-Dyeing Mind Study (Shingaku Hayasomegusa). 1790.
Saikaku Ihara. The Life of an Amorous Man. (1682) Trans. Kengi Hamada. Tuttle Publishing: 2011.
Saikaku Ihara. The Life of an Amorous Woman.
Saikaku Ihara and Morris, Ivan. The Life of an Amorous Woman and Other Writings. New Directions: 1969.
Hibbett, Howard. The Floating World in Japanese Fiction. Tuttle Publishing: 2002.
An Edo Anthology: Literature from Japan's Mega-City, 1750-1850. Eds. Sumie Jones and Kenji Watanabe. University of Hawaii Press: 2013.
Japanese Woodblock Print Search is an ukiyo-e image search engine that taps into the collections of some of the world's top museums. Some of those museums have world-class web sites with barely semifunctional search engines, so this site is doubly useful. Search results display related images underneath, showing different versions of the same print from other collections.
Arts of the Bedchamber: Japanese Shunga is an informative and extensive discussion of shunga and historical Japanese attitudes toward sexuality, hosted by the Honolulu Museum of Art. The front page is worksafe, but I wouldn't read the rest of the site with your grandma looking over your shoulder.
Works by Western Reformers
This includes works from the brothel reform movement, which range from excellent to highly suspect. Although they concern women much lower-ranking than the oiran, they shed light on conditions in the industry.
Gulick, Sidney Lewis. Working Women of Japan. New York: Missionary Education Movement of the United States and Canada, 1915.
Of interest are chapters VIII, "Hotel and Tea-House Girls," X, "Geisha (Hetaerae)," XI, "Shogi (Licensed Prostitutes)," and XII, "Ameliorative Efforts." The author is ethnocentric and a bit of an idiot, but he recounts conversations with actual women who worked as prostitutes.
Murphy, U.G. The Social Evil in Japan, and Allied Subjects. Methodist Publishing House, 1908.
Accounts from a reformer who personally visited brothels and brought legal cases to release women from their indentures.
廓の年中行事 (Annual Events in the Brothels) - A calendar of Yoshiwara monbi (festival days) for 1797 (?), with explanations below.