Yoshiwara was a famous yūkaku (pleasure district) in Edo, the precursor of present-day Tokyo, Japan. To confine and regulate prostitution in Japan in the early 17th century, it was restricted to designated city districts in Kyoto, Osaka and Edo in an attempt by the Tokugawa shogunate to prevent the nouveau riche chōnin (townsmen) from engaging in political intrigue. The Yoshiwara was created in the city of Edo in 1617, near what is today known as Nihonbashi. In 1656, due to the need for space as the city grew, the government decided to relocate Yoshiwara and plans were made to move the district to its present location north of Asakusa on the outskirts of the city.
The Yoshiwara was home to some 1,750 to 3,000 women during the 18th century. The area had over 9,000 women in 1893, many of whom suffered from syphilis. Girls were typically sent there by their parents between the ages of seven to twelve. When a girl was old enough and had completed her apprenticeship, she would become a courtesan and work her way up the ranks. Social classes were not strictly divided in Yoshiwara.
A commoner with enough money would be served as an equal to a samurai. Yoshiwara became a strong commercial area. The fashions in the town changed frequently, creating a great demand for merchants and artisans. Traditionally the prostitutes were supposed to wear only simple blue robes, but this was rarely enforced. The high-ranking ladies often dressed in the highest fashion of the time, with brightly colored silk kimonos and expensive, elaborate hair decorations. Fashion was so important in Yoshiwara that it frequently dictated the fashion trends for the rest of Japan. Yoshiwara remained in business until prostitution was made illegal in 1958.