Tokyo museum apologises for calling Demon Slayer’s brothel district 'glamorous'

·3-min read
Courtesans in Demon Slayer: Kimetsu No Yaiba; lowest rank prostitutes in caged brothels in Yoshiwara. (Photo: Netflix, Getty Images)
(Left) Courtesans in Demon Slayer: Kimetsu No Yaiba; (right) lowest rank prostitutes in a caged brothel in Yoshiwara. (Images: Netflix, Getty Images)

The latest season of Demon Slayer: Kimetsu No Yaiba, which is focused on the Entertainment District arc, started airing on various streaming platforms earlier this month. It is set in Yoshiwara, a famous real-life red-light district in the Edo period, which is now part of the Taito district in Tokyo.

Due to the historical connection, Tokyo’s Edo-Tokyo Museum promoted its Yoshiwara-related artefacts — a painted scroll in this case — with a “Kimetsu No Yaiba” hashtag on Twitter. The tweet described the world of the brothel district as “glamorous and glittering”.

However, Japanese netizens are not so happy with that description, owing to the actual meaning of “entertainment district”. The original Japanese word for “entertainment district” is yukaku, which is better understood as “red-light district”. Although Yoshiwara was a legal, licensed brothel district during its time, people now hold deep concerns over the living conditions of prostitutes during that time.

In response to the museum’s tweet, Japanese Twitter users pointed out the poor choice of adjectives to describe Yoshiwara:

“It’s probably ‘glamorous and glittering’ from the perspective of men. But what about the women working in the district? Did you not know that yukaku is also called ‘the suffering world’?”

“Demon Slayer not only shows the yukaku as a gorgeous place, but it also depicts the shadows of the district, and the misery of the prostitutes and the illegitimate children born in the district.”

“There is nothing glamorous about sexually transmitted diseases, and treating women and children as tools and slaves.”

The museum subsequently tweeted an apology, saying that their expression ‘a glamorous and glittering world’ was inappropriate. They also clarified that their exhibits will “present both the facade of Yoshiwara that played a major role in the development of Edo culture, as well as the harsh inner realities of the women forced to sell their bodies for economic reasons.”

The tweet comes with an infographic from the museum’s Yoshiwara display, showing how the district operated throughout the day. One of the statements reads, “It was a cruel environment [for the working women] with hardly any time to sleep or eat.”

Another infographic illustrates the staggering figures of the increasing numbers of prostitutes over the years and less well-to-do prostitutes made up the greater proportion. The infographic is supplemented with photos of Jokanji, a Buddhist temple near Yoshiwara that houses the remains of poor prostitutes in a collective grave.

Despite all of the negative factors, Yoshiwara had a great influence on Japan’s arts and culture, which includes the creation of geisha, and fashion trends for kimono design and traditional Japanese hairstyling and makeup. The artistic vibrance of the district also attracted painters, craftsmen, and other artisans, giving Yoshiwara a complicated position in Japanese history.

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