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For other meanings of Maruyama, see 円山 (Maruyama)
  • Japanese: 丸山 (maruyama)

The Maruyama was the chief courtesan district of Nagasaki in the Edo period, serving chiefly the Chinese and Dutch communities of the port city.

The district, already operating in the Maruyama and Yoriai neighborhoods of the port city in 1642, was in that year more officially established, and the women of the district granted access to the Dutch community of Dejima, which had not seen any women for several years.

The courtesans of the Maruyama pleasure district were the only Japanese, other than shogunate officials, permitted to enter the Dutch neighborhood on Dejima; they also served the Chinese merchants of the city, Japanese residents, and Japanese visitors to Nagasaki from other parts of the archipelago.[1] Initially, the courtesans were officially required to return from Dejima in the morning, and were not permitted to stay overnight in the Chinese district at all. However, these rules were not strictly enforced, and grew lax over the course of the Edo period, until before long courtesans were able to stay in either foreign settlement indefinitely, so long as their client continued to pay, and the courtesan wished to do so.[2] The girls serving each community came to be separated, so they could not aid in any smuggling or conspiracy between the Dutch and Chinese communities. Thus, some Maruyama courtesans came to be known as karayuki ("going to China"), and served only Chinese and Japanese clients, while others, known as orandayuki ("going to Holland"), served only Dutch and Japanese clients. A small group of the most elite Maruyama courtesans served only Japanese clients, and were known as nihonyuki ("going to Japan"). Though they could not smuggle goods, money, or information between the Dutch and the Chinese, the women of the pleasure quarters were able to carry things between the foreign districts and the Japanese townsmen of Nagasaki, thus circumventing the shogunate's clearinghouse, which claimed monopolies on a variety of trade goods, and charged high tariffs. Girls also received personal gifts from their clients, some of which were quite exotic and precious, such as white sugar from Indonesian plantations, or various sorts of textiles; while the authorities required these to be reported, in order to stem smuggling, they also asserted that such gifts became the personal property of the courtesan and could not be confiscated by brothel owners.

The courtesans are said to have preferred the company of the Chinese, since the Dutch were so much more foreign, with different sexual predilections, personal hygiene habits, and culture besides; as a result, the orandayuki charged higher rates to their Dutch customers than the karayuki did to their Chinese clients.[3] Enforcement of restrictions on the island were quite lax at times, and on occasion, courtesans even escorted Dutchmen off Dejima (into Nagasaki proper), or accompanied them out of the country.[4] A number of Maruyama courtesans also had children with members of the Dejima community. Some of these children came to be regarded as "Japanese," being raised either within the Maruyama, or by the courtesan's parents, being accepted and incorporated into Japanese society, and remained in Japan for the rest of their lives, banned from leaving just like any other Japanese; other children of Maruyama courtesans were deemed foreigners, and lived on Dejima or outside of Japan the remainder of their lives, banned from entering or traveling freely within the archipelago like any other foreigner.

The girls of the Maruyama also seem to have maintained strong connections to their natal families. To what extent this was true of the Yoshiwara, Shimabara, or other districts is unclear, but in the Maruyama, girls were always dutiful daughters (working to support their parents) first, and indentured servants, or property, of the brothel second. They were able to buy, smuggle, or otherwise obtain things to give to their families, and in certain circumstances, in many cases, were able to have the authorities side with them against unfair treatment, or in attempting to get out of their contracts in order to return to "ordinary" society, to marry and have children. Sugoroku boards from the time, along with various other popular publications, seem to indicate a common perception that prostitution was simply one stage in one's life, prior to other occupations and/or marriage. Thus, it would seem that prostitutes, and their work, were not necessarily particularly stigmatized, if at all. Closely tied to the local community, historian Amy Stanley argues the Maruyama courtesans might have been seen by their families and neighbors as little different from daughters who had dutifully gone to work as housemaids, or in textile workshops, in order to help support their parents. Such a thing became relatively common in many parts of the archipelago in the 18th century. Some girls who served the Chinese and Dutch communities as Maruyama prostitutes did not even leave home; in exchange for a significant fee paid by their parents, these girls were able to be part-time (shikiri) or nominal (nazuke) yûjo, who lived at home with their parents and only went out to Dejima or the Chinese enclosure when the brothel with which they were affiliated did not have enough girls to meet a given night's level of demand. Such part-time activity, however, upset the authorities, as it blurred the distinction between "ordinary" townspeople, who were barred from entering the foreign districts, and prostitutes, who were not. As a result, from time to time, part-time yûjo were apprehended and punished - typically by being forced into full-time unpaid work in the Maruyama.

Kagetsu, a ryôtei restaurant originally established as a tea house within the Hiketaya brothel, is home to the oldest Western-style room in Japan. Known as the Harusame-no-ma, it features Chinese chairs, tables, and window-dressing, and a Dutch chandelier, and overlooks a Japanese garden. The room dates originally to 1642, and was restored in the 1870s.[5]


  • Amy Stanley, Selling Women: Prostitution, Markets, and the Household in Early Modern Japan, UC Press (2012), 72-100.
  1. Though they served Europeans and Chinese, the girls of the Maruyama were forbidden from taking Africans or (dark-skinned) Javanese - a number of whom were resident in Dejima as servants to the Dutch - as patrons. Gary Leupp, Interracial Intimacy in Japan: Western Men and Japanese Women, 1543-1900, A&C Black (2003), 94.
  2. Stanley, 79.
  3. Marius Jansen, China in the Tokugawa World, Harvard University Press (1992), 32.
  4. Hiroko Johnson, Western Influences on Japanese Art: The Akita Ranga Art School and Foreign Books, Amsterdam: Hotei Publishing (2005), 22.
  5. Ari Beser, "East Meets West at This Historic Nagasaki Eatery," National Geographic, Fulbright National Geographic Stories, 19 April 2016.