This article traces the time practices relevant to Edo-period pleasure-quarter life and business in eighteenth and nineteenth century Japan, discussing two time patterns that appeared in pleasure-quarter directories at the time: more long-term, loosely circumscribed stays based around diurnal rhythms of light and darkness, as well as more short-term transactions centered on units of time measured with incense sticks—two aspects of time that were central to the trade plied in the quarters, as I show. I argue that the sex trade is significant in that it provided a rare example of a service “paid by the hour” in early modern Japan, thus crucially also calling us to (re-)consider larger issues regarding the economic value of time within the early modern Japanese world of work and especially also its relationship to modern time and labor. I demonstrate how the exigencies of a certain trade required the elaboration of a set of time units and, where necessary, a system to measure and co-ordinate them, which ultimately points towards the existence of an abstract notion of time that commanded a certain price in early modern Japan. As such, the present paper serves to qualify narratives that mainly identify the commodification of time with Japan’s industrialization, modernization, and Westernization in the late nineteenth century, as well as with the dissemination of mechanical clock-time
E. P. Thompson, “Time, Work-Discipline, and Industrial Capitalism,”Past & Present38 (1967); for an overview of scholarship that has revised Thompson’s seminal article, see Paul Glennie and Nigel Thrift, “Reworking E. P. Thompson’s ‘Time, Work-discipline and Industrial Capitalism,” Time & Society 5, no. 3 (1996); for a critique from the viewpoint of early modern Japanese agrarian labor, see Thomas C. Smith, “Peasant Time and Factory Time in Japan,” Past & Present 111 (1986).
Nishimoto Ikuko, “The ‘Civilization’ of Time. Japan and the Adoption of the Western Time System,”Time & Society6, no. 2 (1997); see also the essays in Kuriyama Shigehisa and Hashimoto Takehiko, eds., Japan Review 14 (2002), special issue The Birth of Tardiness: The Formation of Time Consciousness in Modern Japan.
See for example Cecilia Segawa Seigle, Yoshiwara. The Glittering World of the Japanese Courtesan (Honululu: University of Hawaii Press, 1993); Ono Takeo, Yoshiwara, Shimabara (Tōkyō: Kyōikusha, 1978); Satō Yōjin, Fukagawa yūrishi (Tōkyō: Taihei Shooku, 1979); Imanishi Hajime, Yūjo no shakaishi: Shimabara, Yoshiwara no rekishi kara shokuminchi kōshō-sei made (Tōkyō: Yūshisha, 2007).
Kitagawa Morisada, Ruijū kinsei fūzokushi. Genmei Morisada mankō (Tōkyō: Enomoto Shobō, 1927), ge 73. Mitamura Engyo suggests, however, that in practice high-ranking courtesans were sold at half-day prices as they lost popularity by the mid-eighteenth century; see Mitamura Engyo zenshū 10 (Tōkyō: Chūō Kōronsha, 1975-1983), 296. Some price lists exist outside the directories that also provide half-day fees for tayū, suggesting that the distinction may not have been strictly adhered to in day-to-day business.
Silvio A. Bedini, The Trail of Time. Time Measurement with Incense in East Asia (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994); Silvio A. Bedini, “The Scent of Time. A Study of the Use of Fire and Incense for Time Measurement in Oriental Countries,” Transactions of the American Philosophical Society 53, no. 5 (1963).
Nishizaka Yasushi, Mitsui Echigoya hōkōnin no kenkyū (Tōkyō: Tōkyō Daigaku Shuppankai, 2006), 197-242. The Mitsui Echigoya was a highly successful drapery and money-brokering business with branches in Edo, Osaka, and Kyoto, which went on to become today’s Mitsui group.
Gerhard Dohrn-van Rossum, “Time,” in The Oxford Handbook of Early Modern European History, 1350-1750. Volume 1: People and Places, ed. Hamish Scott (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2015), 153. Dohrn-van Rossum has made this argument in the context of late medieval Europe, referring to skipped mealtimes measured with hourglasses, which constituted an early form of “overtime.”
See for example J. E. DeBecker, The Nightless City or the History of the Yoshiwara Yūkwaku (Yokohama: Maruya, 1899), 186. Higuchi Kōyō wrote in 1921 that in his childhood (in the 1890s) “there were still places that applied this method of measurement, but now a time system is in place everywhere,” which counted one hour as one “stick.” See Higuchi Kōyō, Geisha tetsugaku (Tōkyō: Hōgakkan Shoten, 1921). In the Nakamura pleasure district in Nagoya timing with incense was abolished at the beginning of the Shōwa era (1926-1989), according to an interview with an habitué of the quarters; see Kanzaki Noritake, Yūkaku Narikomaya: Fushigi na basho no fōkuroa (Tōkyō: Kōdansha, 1989), 176.