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A WOMAN OF PLEASURE by Kiyoko Murata


by Kiyoko Murata ; translated by Juliet Winters Carpenter

Pub Date: Feb. 27th, 2024
ISBN: 9781640095793
Publisher: Counterpoint

The experiences of a country girl sold into prostitution in 1903 lay bare the established system and financial exploitation of the Japanese pleasure industry.

Shinonome is known to be the classiest brothel in Kumamoto, on Kyushu Island, and also, as was customary, became the name of the highest-earning, most desirable courtesan among the 80 under its roof. Fifteen-year-old Aoi Ichi has just arrived from a rocky southern island, and she’s placed into Shinonome’s mentorship and service. In debt to the bordello both for the money paid to her father and for everything she wears and consumes on site (at inflated prices), Ichi must learn her trade—to attract and please customers—as thoroughly as possible in order to earn her freedom. Murata, an award-winning Japanese author whose books have never before been translated into English, traces Ichi’s education and training in clear, simple prose, laying out the big picture—practices, punishments, financial underpinnings—and the more quotidian details: depilation, feminine hygiene, etc. Slowly, Ichi is transformed from an ingénue into a skilled escort, though never entirely shedding her bold instincts. Literacy is another important skill, and Ichi attends the Female Industrial School, where Akae Tetsuko, an impoverished woman of good breeding, offers a wider intellectual perspective. Taking on her own clients, Ichi finds continuing support among her peer group. But the brothel is essentially a harsh prison, and some of the girls, including one who fell pregnant, take flight, threatening its discipline. Then Ichi’s father increases her debt burden, and with strikes taking place in Japanese industry and the police changing their policy on enforcing brothel rules, the girls rebel and go on strike themselves. A mass exodus follows, drawing the line under a tale based, unsurprisingly, on true events.

A precise portrait of sexual enslavement that tends more toward primer than immersive plot.