- Fertility and Pleasure: Ritual and Sexual Values in Tokugawa Japan
In this exciting work, William Lindsey offers a new approach to studying the lives of women in Tokugawa Japan, deploying theoretical concepts drawn from religious studies to illuminate the connections between institutions, ideals, and ritual practices. Lindsey bases his argument on the observation that two value models laid claim to young women's sexuality—fertility, represented by the institution of marriage and centered in the household, and pleasure, represented by the business of prostitution and centered in the brothel. By analyzing the rituals associated with these competing ideals, he draws parallels between the lives of married women and Yoshiwara courtesans.
A diverse group of scholars has espoused the idea that Tokugawa society held a dichotomous view of female sexuality represented by figures at opposite extremes—wife and prostitute. Literature specialists such as Donald Keene, Howard Hibbet, and Donald Shively have argued that witty and charming yōjo offered men liberation from the stultifying confines of domesticity. Historians Sone Hiromi and Kurachi Katsunao, on the other hand, suggest that courtesans desired liberation of the opposite sort: trapped in an institution that thwarted their desire for monogamy, prostitutes longed for marriage. Lindsey opens his book with a representation of this phenomenon, analyzing Utamaro's portrait of the courtesan Hanaogi fantasizing about her wedding procession; however, rather than focusing on the incompatibility of marriage and prostitution, he uses this illustration to argue that the intricate customs of the pleasure quarters reflected (if obliquely) the values and practices associated with matrimony. By comparing the wedding procession in Hanaogi's dream and the courtesan's procession she had likely experienced, Lindsey highlights the connections underlying the wife-prostitute dichotomy. Men might have compartmentalized their erotic lives and divided their sexual partners into discrete categories, but young women who entered into marriage or prostitution experienced similar epochal events marked by parallel, though not identical, rituals.
In chapter 1, Lindsey analyzes the value models of fertility and pleasure. As the primary exponent of fertility values, he chooses Uesugi Yōzan, a nineteenth-century daimyo who composed a guide to conduct for his soon-to-be-married granddaughter. As an alternative to Uesugi's idealized vision of the modest, obedient, and faithful wife, Lindsey presents an array of literary portraits of the consummate courtesan. Exempt from conventional requirements of fidelity, she was held to a different standard, expected to excel at mimicking pleasure and manipulating her clients' affections. Though radically divergent in their standards for female behavior, both models of conduct were oriented toward the future success and financial stability of their associated institutions; while the virtuous wife oriented her sexuality, ritual identity, and reproductive capacity toward her new household, the skillful courtesan offered her sexuality, public persona, and artistic skills to her brothel. In assigning motivations to these behaviors, the models employed identical symbolic vocabulary. The concept [End Page 164] of filial piety (kō), for example, was used to explain both the wife's entrance into marriage and the courtesan's descent into prostitution.
Rituals, as well as concepts, were shared between the realms of fertility and pleasure, marking transitional moments in the lives of both wives and courtesans. Lindsey divides these moments into three categories—entrance, placement, and exit—and describes the rites associated with each. In the chapter concentrating on "entrance," he juxtaposes the customs attending the ceremony for taking a wife with the formalities observed on the occasion of a courtesan's debut. The debut parodied the wedding ceremony, but it also borrowed some of the prestige associated with normative celebrations of marriage; both bride and groom and courtesan and client marked their union by sharing sake, for example, and the bride's dowry and the courtesan's trousseau each contained "ritual objects of transfer," such as a shell box (for the bride) or bedding (for the courtesan). As Lindsey observes, both rituals aimed to camouflage uncertainty whether consummation would ultimately undermine or reaffirm the institutional values of the household or brothel. If the bride...