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were courtesans in Japan. The oiran were considered a type of "woman of pleasure" or prostitute. However, they are distinguished from the yƫjo in that they were entertainers, and many became celebrities of their times outside the pleasure districts. Their art and fashions often set trends among the wealthy and, because of this, cultural aspects of oiran traditions continue to be preserved to this day.


The oiran arose in the Edo period (1600–1868). At this time, laws were passed restricting brothels to walled districts set some distance from the city center. In the major cities these were the Shimabara in Kyoto, the Shinmachi in Osaka, and in Edo (present-day Tokyo), the Yoshiwara. These rapidly grew into large, self-contained "pleasure quarters" offering all manner of entertainments. Within, a courtesan's birth rank held no distinction but there arose a strict hierarchy according to beauty, character, education, and artistic skills. Among the oiran, the was considered the highest rank of courtesan or prostitute and were considered suitable for the daimyo. Only the wealthiest and highest ranking could hope to patronise them.

To entertain their clients, oiran practiced the arts of dance, music, poetry, and calligraphy, and an educated wit was considered essential for sophisticated conversation.

The isolation within the closed districts resulted in the oiran becoming highly ritualised in many ways and increasingly removed from the...
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