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It exalts some, degrades others. It generates offspring. Taboos concerning it are as old as humanity. Laws regulating it predate civilization. Nowhere is the human libido absolutely unfettered. Incest is nowhere tolerated, marriage in some form, until very recently, everywhere requisite to socially sanctioned coupling.
That it is so testifies to something lacking in marriage. Even in early Japan, where a nobleman could take as many wives as he pleased, the trade flourished. Prostitutes were known as asobi-onna women of pleasure; asobi for short.
It was, in part, a riparian trade. If there are parents, they wish only that their daughters were fortunate enough to be summoned by many customers. This has become the custom, though no human feeling is involved.
It sends a pang to his heart. His question echoes down the ages. Christian Europe and Shinto-Buddhist Japan saw prostitution differently: the former as sin, the latter as art. Sordid economic necessity, it is true, underlay both traditions. Standards in the best of them were high. They were entertainers, artists. Sex was one of their arts. The courtesan who was not also a poet, dancer, singer and conversationalist ranked low in, if not out of, a rigid, quasi-aristocratic hierarchy. Christian and Japanese attitudes regarding prostitution clashed head-on in When the Maria Luz, a Peruvian ship transporting Chinese coolies, docked at Yokohama for repairs, a coolie jumped overboard, complaining of ill-treatment.
The matter came before a Japanese court, whose investigators found that the coolies were indeed treated like slaves. And who was Japan to set standards? It was a telling thrust, recognized as such by Kanagawa Prefecture Deputy Gov. Taku Oe. The pleasure quarters were gilded cages, but cages all the same. The women were chattel, sold more often than not as children by impoverished parents under a patriarchal system of government that accorded the male head of a household absolute authority over its members.