Occupying Power: Sex Workers and Servicemen in Postwar Japan

By Sarah Kovner | Go to book overview
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Introduction
A Special Business

In 1949, a reporter for the popular weekly Sandee Mainichi visited Kyoto’s famed pleasure quarter of Shimabara and, after some investigation, concluded that geisha had become “living antiques.” For centuries, formally trained and elegantly costumed geisha had embodied the height of fashionable dance, song, and wit. But the reporter believed that something was now missing. “They deal only with ‘drinking,’” he explained, “so they are a kind of showgirl dressed in historical costume, performing historical plays. After that they only entertain clients while they drink or serve them tea. And that’s all the business there is for them—they have nothing to do with the ‘special business.’”1

That “special business” is the subject of this study. What made it appear new and special, even while the geisha came to seem quaint? For more than 300 years, Japan had tolerated and regulated the performance of sexual services for remuneration. Other more eclectic accounts have surveyed this earlier era, when authorities demarcated “pleasure districts,” recognized debt contracts, and certified the health of sex workers. Occupying Power seeks to explain how and why the arrival of masses of foreign soldiers shifted the long-established landscape of the sex industry in fundamental ways. Together

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