Prostitute Emancipation Act

  • Date: 1872
  • Japanese: 芸娼妓解放令 (geishougi kaihourei)

The Prostitute Emancipation Act of 1872 freed geisha and prostitutes from being held by any contracts of indentured servitude.

The policy was enacted by the Meiji government largely in response to both domestic and foreign critics of Japan's sex trade, and with an eye to improving Japan's reputation and status in the eyes of the world powers. However, while ostensibly a positive and progressive move, it in fact left a great many women unemployed, and with nowhere else to turn. Many brothels relabeled themselves "room rental establishments" (kashizashiki gyô), and many women returned, to work under similar new contracts, albeit no longer explicitly as prostitutes. Further, only three years later, the government backtracked, once again recognizing the legality of contracts of indenture for prostitutes.

However, scholars identify the 1872 law as having a significant impact in introducing into the public conversation about prostitution the concept, and possibility, of liberation.


  • Amy Stanley, Selling Women: Prostitution, Markets, and the Household in Early Modern Japan, UC Press (2012), 194.