Selling Songs and Smiles: The Sex Trade in Heian and Kamakura Japan

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9780824830977: Selling Songs and Smiles: The Sex Trade in Heian and Kamakura Japan
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Selling Songs and Smiles explores female sexual entertainment ("songs and smiles") during Japan’s Heian and Kamakura periods, examining the gradual construction of a transgressive identity ("prostitute") for women engaged in the sex trade. Over some four hundred years, the character and public image of sexual entertainment was shaped by growing restrictions on female sexual activity and increasingly negative views of the female body―themselves the result of socioeconomic change in society at large. Although it is possible to paint a picture of the general decline in the status of women in the sex trade, there were also ambiguities in how they were regarded by society in the very oldest extant references to them in historical sources. Using essays, diaries, legal documents, stories, and illustrated works, this original and distinctive study unravels social attitudes toward female sexual entertainers and examines changes in their trade and the treatment they received at the hands of the court, the bakufu, and religious institutions.

Compellingly argued and stylishly written, Selling Songs and Smiles challenges several prevailing interpretations, most notably the organic connection posed by scholars between shamans and sexual entertainers. Based on her exhaustive research into multiple types of primary sources, Janet Goodwin views women involved in the sex trade neither as entirely social marginals nor artisans situated within normal societal bounds. What emerges from her study is the complex and often contradictory nature of the Heian and Kamakura discourse on sexual entertainment.

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About the Author:

Janet R. Goodwin was a founding faculty member of the University of Aizu in Aizu-Wakamatsu, Japan. Now retired, she is research associate at the East Asian Study Center, University of Southern California.

Review:

"[This] is a work of weight; it is concise, focused, meticulously researched, and written with nuance and aplomb."

"Goodwin offers an erudite account that acknowledges all prior scholarly work on the subject.... The book is packed with juicy details, historically necessary and judiciously picked from sources not usually encountered. Of major interest, however, is Goodwin's ability to see behind the self-serving screens of political history, to divine the true intentions of this demonization of one of the few professions then open to women, and to present her facts in the fairest possible manner."

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