Photo/IllutrationA panoramic photo of Yoshiwara likely shot from the Ryounkaku building (Provided by Masaharu Asada)

  • Photo/Illustraion

The discovery of a rare panoramic photograph of Yoshiwara, the largest red-light district during the Edo Period (1603-1867), has researchers hot under the collar.

Taketoshi Hibiya, a former Keio University professor who studies Yoshiwara’s history, described the photo, likely taken in the mid-Meiji Era (1868-1912), as a “historic material.”

“I have never seen a picture snapped from above to cover the entire Yoshiwara although a photo exists showing part of the quarter before it was destroyed in the 1911 fire,” he said.

The photo, which measures 10.2 centimeters by 14.6 cm, is printed on albumen paper. Masaharu Asada, a collector based in Tokyo, found it on an online auction site in June.

The back of the photo-mount indicates it was likely shot by noted photographer Esaki Reiji (1845-1910) from the observation deck of the 12-story Ryounkaku building, which opened near Sensoji temple in the Asakusa district in 1890.

Houses and agricultural fields can be seen in the foreground, with the Yoshiwara district shown behind them.

Some large brothels in the photo are seen with a clock turret, a tower and a balcony designed to impress customers. A hospital to examine prostitutes for syphilis is also in the picture.

Hibiya said Yoshiwara was lined with three-storied brothels during the Meiji Era.

“State-of-the-art, modern-style buildings were constructed in the middle of agricultural fields to grab customers’ attention,” he said.