FEATURE: The Real-Life History Behind the Entertainment District in Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba

Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba Разное


Editor’s Note: This article contains discussion of adult topics that may not be suitable for all ages.


While the subtitle in Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba’s latest arc may say “Entertainment District,” the Japanese name “Yukaku” is more straightforward in its meaning: a red-light district. Demon Slayer shows the flashiness of Yoshiwara, an area once teeming with life and pleasure, but the series is only a glimpse into what the area truly was.


Before airing, concerns from Japanese parents and the press arose worried about the content of the Entertainment District Arc — so much to the point that Yuriko Nakamura, the Head of Programming at Fuji TV, stated in September 2021, "the content [of the arc] will be broadcast without any changes," even putting the popular broadcast in the latest TV slot available to primetime series.


Still, there is a real history to explore of the people and place even today. So let's learn more about the backstory of the Entertainment District, a whole character unto itself.


The History of the Yukaku


Yoshiwara was Japan’s biggest red-light district space located in Edo (later renamed Tokyo) before the Anti-Prostitution Law passed in 1956 stamped out legal sex work. Founded in 1617 near where the Nihonbashi district currently stands, the location moved in 1657 after a fire decimated the area and the Shogunate demanded the district be relocated to the then-rural outskirts of Asakusa, where it stayed until 1958. 


While the area today is mostly just the usual urban Tokyo sprawl, remnants of the old area still exist today in both a physical and spiritual way.


Yoshiwara’s main street of Nakanocho in 1775 as seen in Toyoharu Utagawa “Perspective picture of famous places of Japan: Nakanocho in Shin-Yoshiwara” print. 

Yoshiwara’s main street of Nakanocho in 1775 as seen in Toyoharu Utagawa
“Perspective picture of famous places of Japan: Nakanocho in Shin-Yoshiwara” print. 
(Image via Ota Memorial Museum of Art)


Yoshiwara wasn’t the only pleasure district to be set up during the early 1600s by the Tokugawa shogunate: Shimabara in Kyoto and Shinmachi in Osaka were modeled after the one in Edo, all officially sanctioned by the government. These districts were created to keep the adult entertainment within its walls. This was less to move the areas away from public view, but more to contain all the businesses into one space, making it easier to collect tax revenue and keep the businesses under the thumb of the shogunate. Other forms of entertainment such as kabuki also underwent the same measures.


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All three yukaku were surrounded by high walls and moats, giving them a dreamlike feel once entered, thus dubbed “The Floating World.” Much like clubs in modern times, crossing over the bridge and entering into the entertainment space would have felt like walking into a more extravagant world. The lights of the establishments lit up the night sky, with parades through the main streets most nights featuring the top oiran. 


We see a lot of the same in the establishing shots of Yoshiwara in the Entertainment District Arc, though the lights are a bit more modern in Demon Slayer compared to when the district was first established centuries earlier.


Yoshiwara in the Edo period before the advent of electricity as featured in “View of Shin-Yoshiwara in the Eastern Capital” by Hiroshige II. 

Yoshiwara in the Edo period before the advent of electricity as featured in
“View of Shin-Yoshiwara in the Eastern Capital” by Hiroshige II. 
(Image via Ota Memorial Museum of Art)


Japanese society during the Edo period had a very strict social hierarchy, which was noted to have spilled over to the society (“Social position of visitors to Yoshiwara” by Madoka Takagi, Seijo University) of the yukaku, with some denied service due to lack of money or proper etiquette. But, given the want of some to stay anonymous during their time in the area, status and titles were removed from the equation.


Yoshiwara was thought of as a night town, but in actuality, the only gate into the district closed at 10 PM, with the more appropriate entertainment ending at midnight and “adult” entertainment continuing until 2 AM. Customers had to leave Yoshiwara in the morning by 6 AM, as they weren’t technically allowed in the district during the day, yet the rule was rarely enforced.


The Oiran of Yoshiwara


While the yukaku seemed like fun and games, it was a brutal life for those living inside. By 1898, an estimated 10,000 women were working as courtesans within Yoshiwara (“The Nightless City: or the History of the Yoshiwara Yukwaku“ by J. E. De Becker, page 363); Many of them were slaves, sold off to houses to pay off the debts of family members. These girls usually weren’t able to pay off their debts, with many dying from disease. Due to the close quarters, lack of sewage systems and the basis of the work, the overall health of the district was teeming with disease such as syphilis. 


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Some made it out, having their debts paid by a suitor and moving out of the district to live with them. Only a select few made it to the top and became an oiran.


Woodcut print of an oiran, created between 1818-1830 

Woodcut print of an oiran, created between 1818-1830 
(Image via the Library of Congress) 


Oiran were the most popular, beautiful and exclusive workers in a yukaku — basically the influencers of the Edo Era. These women brought in the most money for the houses they belonged to. An oiran had climbed the courtesan ranks, usually as an apprentice of a previous generation oiran from a young age. In a guidebook of Yoshiwara from 1792, there were only six registered oiran in the whole district of thousands of women. 


Unlike the lower-ranked courtesans, oiran didn’t have to advertise themselves in the windows of their houses and were allowed to pick and choose their customers. These customers had to go through a rigid three-step (and very expensive) process to even get to meet the oiran and even then they may be declined.


Their styles would influence the girls that worked in the other houses and were only seen with a group of people — usually younger girls who were being trained up or weren’t considered pretty enough to become an oiran — employed by the oiran directly to keep up appearances.


Demon Slayer

Daki, the Upper Rank Six demon


Daki, one of the two demons of the arc, is an oiran (under the name Warabihime) and, before she was turned into a demon, was born and raised in Yoshiwara itself. After she was transformed into a demon, Daki would then join various houses and go under different names as she ate other humans in the district. 


How Yoshiwara Was in Demon Slayer Times


Demon Slayer already visited Asakusa in the Unwavering Resolve Arc, treating viewers to what the very-popular area looked like during the Taisho Era. Even though Asakusa suffered heavy damage during World War II, the area was rebuilt into what we know today using the blueprints and images that survived.


This was not the case for Yoshiwara, which now only exists in ukiyo-e prints from the Edo Era and the black-and-white photos that survived the bombing of Tokyo. Unlike the rest of Japan in the Taisho Era, which was modernizing during the Meiji period, Yoshiwara did its best to stay as traditional as possible.


Demon Slayer

The main street of Nakanocho as seen in Demon Slayer


Demon Slayer visits Yoshiwara during a very interesting time. The area has clearly modernized to an extent, with electricity and era-appropriate fences around the main gate rather than the traditional walls that can still be seen around castles across Japan, but this is before the Showa Era of Japan, which transitioned the area from traditional Japanese to modern Tokyo.


Close up of the entrance of Yoshiwara in “View of Shin-Yoshiwara in the Eastern Capital” by Hiroshige II.
(via Ota Memorial Museum of Art)


Yoshiwara in 2022


Yoshiwara doesn’t exist in the same form that it did pre-1958, though the area where it once stood is still just a 20-minute walk from Asakusa and continues the spirit of the old district, housing many adult establishments.


The main street of Nakanocho-dori in 2022

The main street of Nakanocho-dori in 2022 (photo: Daryl Harding)


The area is now known as Senzoku 4-chome, and from the outside looks like any other suburban area of Tokyo. In fact, Senzoku 3-chome is actually pretty out of the way to go — mimicking the trek from central Edo to the area back in its heyday — with the closest train station being a ten-minute walk. 


From the inside of where Yoshiwara stood, soaplands line the streets of the aptly named Edomachi Dori, mixed in with apartments, restaurants and convenience stores. Though the area doesn’t look too dissimilar to the northwest side of Ikebukuro station, it pales in comparison to Kabukicho, Tokyo’s current “pleasure district.” 


Tokyo’s Taito Ward with Tokyo SkyTree in the background

Tokyo’s Taito Ward with Tokyo SkyTree in the background (photo: Daryl Harding)


Most of Yoshiwara has been lost to time at this stage, with only Kyoto’s Shimabara remaining mostly faithful to its original design, largely from being spared from World War II bombings. Only a few relics of the past remain, such as the Yoshiwara Shrine which continues to serve the community and the street layout remaining true to the old Edo Era layout.


Yoshiwara Shrine is the remnants of a few smaller shrines from the area rolled into one once the district started developing in the Meiji era. Enshrined here is the goddess Benzaiten,  one of the Seven Lucky Gods who is the goddess of the arts, prosperity and abundance, and protects women and artists — making for a good god to watch over the Yoshiwara women. Before the 1956 Anti-Prostitution Law passed, Yoshiwara women were usually seen praying at this shrine daily.


Yoshiwara shrine

Yoshiwara shrine (photo: Daryl Harding)


In the below image, one of the biggest remaining elements of Yoshiwara in modern-day Senzoku 4-chome is the layout, where the streets are very similar to their Edo Era counterparts. The wider streets used to accommodate the vast number of people walking the Yoshiwara paths converted well into roads for cars. This is good for the surprising amount of taxis that can be found driving up and down the relatively quiet street.


Yoshiwara map (left), Senzoku 4-chome map (right). Note the green areas of the left picture represent rice fields while the blue was the moat that surrounded the area.

Yoshiwara map (left), Senzoku 4-chome map (right). Note the green areas of the
left picture represent rice fields while the blue was the moat that surrounded the area.
(Left image via Ota Memorial Museum of Art, the right image via Google Maps, edited by Daryl Harding)


The main strip is lined with traditional-looking red street lamps that signify the area was once somewhere important, even if that element is gone. While a lot of the buildings were destroyed in the 1923 Kanto Earthquake, and then again in World War II air raids, some older locations were restored and are currently used as restaurants and galleries.


A restored building in Tokyo’s Taito Ward

A restored building in Tokyo’s Taito Ward (photo: Daryl Harding)


I wasn’t sure what to expect going to where Yoshiwara was located, but what did surprise me was the relative normalcy of the district. When walking through significant locations in Kyoto, such as the paved roads of Ninenzaka and Sannenzaka, or even down Nakamise Dori of Asakusa, you can feel the history that strolled those same paths. 


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The former site of Yoshiwara, despite having 400 years of history, was just a normal, if not a tiny bit seedier, suburb of Tokyo, an area in which many gathered now lost to the passage of time and progress.


Further reading:

“What is Yukaku” (Japanese) — https://intojapanwaraku.com/culture/179000/ 
“How did the prostitutes of Yoshiwara spend their days during the Edo period?” (Japanese) —

Part 1: https://news.yahoo.co.jp/byline/watanabedaimon/20211228-00274026
Part 2: https://news.yahoo.co.jp/byline/watanabedaimon/20211229-00274107

“We will guide you through the Yoshiwara yukaku” (Japanese) — https://otakinen-museum.note.jp/n/naadbf3f2b985
“What became of Yoshiwara, Japan’s old red-light district?” (English) — https://japantoday.com/category/features/travel/what-became-of-yoshiwara-tokyo%E2%80%99s-old-red-light-district
“The Yoshiwara Pleasure Quarters: A Cradle for Japan’s Edo Culture” (English) — https://www.nippon.com/en/japan-topics/g00885/



Daryl Harding is a Japan Correspondent for Crunchyroll News. He also runs a YouTube channel about Japan stuff called TheDoctorDazza, tweets at @DoctorDazza, and posts photos of his travels on Instagram

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