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I'm writing a Graphic novel with a segment in 1930's and 40's japan. I've looked around on the web but have been unable to find specific answers. I've heard girls were often sold to brothels by their families to pay off debts, and that is the major plot line I am working with.

What were conditions in brothels?

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I see two distinct questions here. Perhaps they should be split up? –  American Luke Aug 3 '13 at 14:39
    
If you want to do your subject matter any justice, you dont want to ask a yes-or-no question but want to ask for extensive sources. If you dont want to do the matter justice, please dont write a novel about it. –  mart Aug 5 '13 at 13:45
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Yes, it is a common practice to sell daughters [and sometimes, wives]. It is widely practiced at least until the mid of Showa period (1950s) so I think it is safe to make it as a major plot line in 1930s-1940s Japan.

In the Edo period (1603-1868) the practice is extremely rampant both in urban and rural areas, and it is considered normal as it is the zeitgeist of the time. However, during the Bakumatsu (opening of Japan) in the early 19th century, Western influence is getting stronger, and there are protests to this practice.

Most protests are elite-driven (from the Westerners and the Western-educated Japanese) though, and even the government legislated Ordinance no. 44 in 1900, daughters [and wives] are still being sold. Especially families in rural areas. There were people that was called Karayuki-san (which means, Ms-Gone-to-China). They were being sold to Asia prostitution traffic - mostly went to China, hence the name.

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Considering that it is reputed to still occur in rural South-East Asia, I see no reason that it wouldn't have occurred, occasionally at least, in other times and places. This is after all what is meant by white slavery.

However, if you are considering a plot line suggesting that this practice was wide-spread, you will likely get hard push-back from various quarters unless you have hard primary evidence of it's occurrence. That may be hard to come by in the English histories.

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