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Amy Beth Stanley Assistant Professor, Department of History, Northwestern University
The business of prostitution expanded dramatically in the late Tokugawa period, sending countless “selling women” (baijo) to work in provincial towns across Japan. The vast majority had not chosen their profession and did not profit from their labor. But for samurai and commoners alike, prostitutes dressed in gold hairpins and gaudy robes came to represent the frightening possibility that women could achieve economic independence by rejecting the household and engaging with the market. This talk examines this paradoxical phenomenon and considers how the case of Tokugawa Japan can contribute to a broader discussion of the historical relationship between prostitution, choice, and morality.