Sign up ×
History Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for historians and history buffs. It's 100% free, no registration required.

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?

share|improve this question
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
Considering the size of red light districts like Yoshiwara one has to assume those girls must come from somewhere – Greg Oct 16 at 15:08
Its not just indebtedness. In any poor family selling female children was a standard practice until recently. Prostitution is much different in Japan than in Europe and the US. It is much more normalized and integrated into society, so being sold into prostitution was not equivalent to what it would mean in other places. – Tyler Durden Oct 16 at 15:43

2 Answers 2

Yes, it was a common practice to sell daughters [and sometimes, wives]. It was 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 was extremely rampant both in urban and rural areas, and it was considered normal as it was the zeitgeist of the time. However, during the Bakumatsu (opening of Japan) in the early 19th century, Western influence was getting stronger, and there are protests to this practice.

Most protests were 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.

share|improve this answer

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.

share|improve this answer
" it is reputed to still occur in rural South-East Asia" .. source? – user69715 Oct 16 at 18:55
@user69715: Are you serious? Try reading any newspaper with a world news section for three months, and look for arrests of sex tourists in undeveloped countries. – Pieter Geerkens Oct 16 at 20:47
I'm serious, I don't go around asking sources for fun :) and it takes too long to read 3 months' worth of newspapers' world news section per your suggestion :) I've heard of prostitution and human trafficking in SE Asia, but if you have a source that it happened in the context specified by the OP (by an indebted family to pay the debt), I will appreciate it. – user69715 Oct 16 at 22:44

Your Answer


By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.