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Indentured Prostitution in Imperial Japan: Credible Commitments in th…

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작성자 한일갈등타파연대 작성일 21-02-13 14:31


 Indentured Prostitution in Imperial Japan: Credible Commitments in the Commercial Sex Industry 

J. Mark Ramseyer 

University of California, Los Angeles 

In 12th century Toulouse, the public brothels split their profits with the local university (Shadwell). Not so in Japan. Japanese brothels never tried to buy academic support, and never had it.


Instead, academics have consistently criticized the brothels for "enslaving" peasant women. Indenture contracts were an important part of the tales they told: poor and unsophisticated, peas ants unwittingly accepted indenture contracts that the brothel owners used to reduce prostitutes to sexual slaves.


These tales cheat the prostitutes of their due-for they drastically under- state the resourcefulness that they could show, even in the direst situations.


Although prostitution was harsh work, most brothel owners were not able to manipulate indenture contracts to keep prostitutes at work indefinitely, and most prostitutes did not become slaves. Instead, licensed prostitutes generally enlisted under six-year indenture contracts.


They earned (what were for them) very high incomes. Many repaid their debts in three or four years and quit early. Most of the rest quit when their contracts expired.


Within this world, the indentures helped make the employment market itself possible for despite the promises of high incomes, a woman entering the industry for the first time could never be sure.


She knew she and her family suffered a loss in social status if she took the job, knew some brothel owners had an incentive to lie about the money she would make, and knew most owners would be able to invoke the courts more easily than she.


Pre- cisely because she could never be sure of the money, she found the indenture contract advantageous. Through the contract, the brothel owners could promise her total earnings large enough to offset a substantial part of her lost status, could make that promise credible by paying her in advance, and could shoulder the costs of invoking the legal system themselves.


The point is not that licensed prostitution and indentured servitude were necessarily "good for Japan"; neither is the point that, overall, peasant women benefited from the availability of a legal market in prostitution. As noted earlier, both issues are beyond the scope of this essay.


Instead, the point is more limited: Given the substantial stigma women incurred in entering the industry, many women hesitated to take jobs at brothels (and many parents hesitated to send their daughters to brothels) without some assurance that they would earn much higher wages than they could earn elsewhere. The indentured contracts offered that assurance.




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