As hit anime’s “Entertainment District Arc” kicks off, Edo-Tokyo Museum reaffirms commitment to telling the complete real-world story.

The second season of Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba began back in October, but it spent its first seven episodes on what it called the Mugen Train Arc, covering essentially the same ground as the Mugen Train anime movie. So what fans were really waiting for was December 5, when Demon Slayer started its Entertainment District Arc, which is being adapted to anime for the first time.

The Entertainment District Arc is set in Yoshiwara, a real-world neighborhood of Tokyo in an area that would now be part of Taito Ward, in the northeast part of the city’s downtown. Because of that historical connection, on December 6, one day after the first Entertainment District Arc aired in Japan, Tokyo’s Edo-Tokyo Museum sent out a tweet promoting its Yoshiwara-related artifacts and displays, with a #Kimetsu no Yaiba hashtag as part of the tweet.

This particular piece, which the tweet says will be on display until December 19, is described with:

“This Yoshiwara Fuzoku Painted Scroll was made in the Genroku-period (1688-1704). There are many TV dramas and manga set in Yoshiwara, and it is also the setting of the recently started Entertainment District Arc of the anime #Kimetsu no Yaiba.

Please take a look at this glamorous, glittering world.”

While that might at first seem like an innocuous attempt to attract attention from anime fans by connecting the museum to the most popular anime in Japan, the tweet also attracted a number of angry replies. As we discussed several months ago, “Entertainment District Arc” is the official English translation Demon Slayer is going with for this section of the story, but “entertainment district” is a pretty loose translation of yukaku, the word used in the arc’s Japanese-language title. Yukaku evokes a more old-time and lascivious image, and a more fitting translation would be “pleasure quarter,” or “red-light district.” The latter would be especially appropriate for Demon Slayer, since Yoshiwara was packed with brothels.

Though Yoshiwara was a legal, licensed brothel district during its heyday, present-day sensibilities towards prostitution, and the living conditions of the women employed in it, are considerably different than they were in the Genroku Period, and even the Taisho Period (1912-1926) in which Demon Slayer takes place. As such, a number of Twitter users replied to the museum’s tweets to voice their opinion that “glamorous” and “glittering” aren’t the appropriate adjectives to describe Yoshiwara, with reactions including:

“Shouldn’t you mention that Yoshiwara only felt ‘glamorous and glittering’ from the perspective of the customers?”
“I’m thinking it was only the people who didn’t live and work in Yoshiwara who found it ‘glamorous and glittering.’ All those pretty clothes and colorful decoration probably felt ash-gray to the people who worked there.”
“By the values of those of us alive today, the women depicted in that scroll were treated like slaves, or even livestock. As a museum, shouldn’t you be mentioning that too?”
“A ‘glamorous and glittering’ picture of enslaved women.”

There were also a few comments in defense of the museum’s choice of words, or at least not particularly offended by them, such as “I don’t think it makes sense to judge past events by standards outside their historical context” and “At the time, prostitution wasn’t thought of by society in such a negative way.” The overall-negative reaction, though, prompted the museum to send out an apology tweet, and also to clarify how the institution presents Yoshiwara and its history in its exhibits.

“In our museum’s exhibits, we present both the outward-facing aspects of Yoshiwara, such as the major role it played in the development of aspects of Edo [Tokyo] culture, as well as the harsh inner realities of the economic conditions under which women felt forced to sell their bodies.

In our December 6 tweet about the Yoshiwara Fuzoku Painted Scroll, our use of ‘a glamorous, glittering world” was inappropriate. We deeply apologize.”

The tweet is accompanied with infographics from the museum’s Yoshiwara display, with statements such as “It was a mercilessly cruel working environment in which the women were allowed hardly any time to sleep or food to eat,” and they’re not kidding about that. Also shown is a photo of Jokanji, a temple on the outskirts of Yoshiwara where prostitutes without the financial means or familial connections for a personal or family grave, had their ashes interred in a collective grave for women of their trade.

▼ The collective grave still exists today, and some visitors leave hair ornaments and lipstick behind as offerings for the deceased.

It’s worth noting that, for all its negative factors, particularly from the vantage point of today, Yoshiwara did have an undeniable influence on the arts and culture in Japan. During the feudal period in which the district was established, the ruling Shogunate discouraged the common people from displays of extravagance, sternly extolling the virtues of an austere lifestyle. Attitudes were much more relaxed inside Yoshiwara, though, and as a result the district is cited as the starting point of numerous trends in fashion, from kimono design to what are now considered classical Japanese hairstyling and makeup. While sex was the main thing crowds came for, Yoshiwara also provided clothes-on entertainment, such as music and dance, and brothels’ attempts to outdo one another, as well as customers’ desire to stand out in the eyes of a courtesan with lavish gifts, also made the district a gathering place for painters, craftsmen, and other artisans. Additionally, cultural values at the time generally frowned on open displays of amour or attraction. Once again, though, Yoshiwara was an exception, resulting in the district becoming a popular setting for tales of passionate period romance in stage drama and literature.

All of that gives Yoshiwara a complex position in Japanese history, and the Edo-Tokyo Museum is far from the only historical facility or scholar to acknowledge the cultural contributions of Japan’s largest provider of prostitution. At the same time, even the museum itself acknowledges that its initial tweet was too small a frame to fit the whole picture in.

Source: Twitter/@edohakugibochan via J-Cast News via Jin
Top image: Wikipedia/Gryffindor
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