The Tale of Kiyū | 喜遊のはなし

The following woodblock prints (1870-1902) depict the story of Kiyū, a pleasure woman housed in a brothel called Gankirō within the Miyozaki Pleasure Quarter in Yokohama during the port-opening period of the mid-19th century. According to legend, Kiyū is forced to take an American client despite her role as a prostitute for Japanese clients only. Desperate, she commits suicide to protect her racial purity, leaving a nationalistic death poem behind. This story was published in various books and woodblock prints. Visit each image to study it closely.

Each image is accompanied by a transcript (honkoku) of the written text in the image, along with translations into contemporary Japanese and English.

Transcription & contemporary Japanese translation by Saeko Suzuki. English translation by Ayaka Yoshimizu.


鈴木紗江子 翻刻&現代語訳、 美水彩加 英訳

Woodblock Prints

The Tale of Kiyu

Shōgi Kiyū no hanashi | 娼妓喜遊之話説

August 9, 2022

Kiyū is the daughter of something-Ōta, a town doctor in Tokyo. At a young age, Kiyū fell into the life of a yujo (woman of pleasure, or prostitute) at her parents’ discretion.

The Tale of Kiyu

Azuma esugata retsujo kurabe: yūgi Kiyū | 吾嬬繪姿烈女競

July 16, 2022

In 1853, both of her parents fell ill, forcing the family into poverty and causing Kiyū to sell herself into bondage…

The Tale of Kiyu

Kokon meifu kagami: shōgi Kiyū | 古今名婦鏡: 娼妓喜遊

June 16, 2022

The family was poor due to her father’s illness and Kiyū was distressed by this. To cure his illness, Kiyū sold herself into bondage at Gankirō in Yokohama and used her earnings to afford medication.