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  • Japanese: 古市 (Furuichi)

Furuichi is a neighborhood of Ise city, formerly a town unto itself, and home, during the Edo period, to the third largest / third most prominent yûkaku (red-light district) after the Yoshiwara in Edo and the Shimabara in Kyoto.

Located on the road which ran between the Inner Shrine and Outer Shrine areas of Ise, Furuichi, once known as Nagamine, though in some respects a rather quiet, out-of-the-way area, saw many pilgrims on their way to Ise shrine. It grew, therefore, mainly as a result of the demand from these travelers for places to eat, drink, and stay the night; since it was fairly customary for pilgrims to give in to enjoyments such as drink and eating meat after a pilgrimage and long period of abstaining, the demand for these things played a major role in Furuichi's development.

Beginning in the early decades of the Edo period, there developed a small yûkaku (red light district), consisting of six teahouses, which grew larger and more prominent over the course of the Edo period. By the Hôei era (1704-1711), there were 162 courtesans and 60 teahouses. Growing to 70 prominent teahouses and 1000 courtesans, and three or four jôruri playhouses, by the Kansei era (1789-1801), Furuichi came to be known as the third red-light district in the country. The most prominent teahouses in the district were the Sugimoto-ya, Aburaya, and Bizen-ya, with the latter being the most prominent multi-storied building in the area.

The district was also famous for its Ise Ondo dances, held in the summer, and for its jishibai (local) kabuki performances. Ise Kabuki was a gateway for many Edo period actors to success in the professional licensed theatres of the big cities, and the Ise Kabuki was very popular among pilgrims and other travelers. It was even said "if you can't make it in Ise, you'll never tread on the cypress stages of Kyoto and Osaka." Many plays were also debuted and tested out in Ise before opening in the big cities. One of the most successful and popular of these was the kabuki version of Yoshitsune Senbon Zakura, which premiered as a bunraku play in Osaka in 1747/11, and was then performed for the first time as a kabuki two months later, in 1748/1, in Furuichi.

A marker can still be seen today identifying the site of the "Osugi to Otama" ("Osugi and Otama") entertainment hall, which seems to have been known chiefly for its shamisen performances; not simply musical performers, the shamisen players at the Osugi to Otama hall are said to have been especially skilled at dodging coins thrown at them by the audience, or catching them or flicking them away with their bachi (the plectrum with which the shamisen is played).[1][2]

The three kabuki theatres in the town, known simply as the Furuichi San-za (lit. "Furuichi Three Theatres"), saw performances every day.[1]

A fire broke out in Dairinji, a temple closely associated with the yûkaku, on 1852/6/27, and spread, ultimately destroying 280 buildings. At this time, there were only 40 prominent teahouses, and 780 girls.

Today, little remains of the teahouses, inns, playhouses, and other lively centers of activity of Edo period Furuichi, except for stones and other markers identifying historical sites, and the roughly 200-year-old Makichi Ryokan, which provides something of a sense of what the remainder of the neighborhood once looked like. Regular kabuki performances ended in 1955, but in 1995, a "Furuichi Kabuki Preservation Society" (Furuichi Kabuki Hozonkai) was founded, which has since then organized jishibai performances every autumn (usually in October). Most often, the play performed is Ise Ondo Koi no Netaba, which was based on a real event that happened at the Aburaya Teahouse in 1796.[1]


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 "Ise Furuichi Kabuki." Subarashiki Mie ("Wonderful/Magnificent Mie Prefecture"). Accessed 28 January 2011.
  2. Chamberlain, Basil Hall et al. A Handbook for Travelers in Japan. Scribner, 1893. p247.