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Unlike in the West prostitution has long been seen as sinful and immoral specifically because female promiscuity was itself seen as sinful and immoral, debates in pre-modern and early modern Japan regarding prostitution largely revolved around concerns about its negative impacts on household and community, and on agricultural productivity, as men worried that prostitutes would distract or lure men away from their work, or from their wives and families.
Still, whereas in the West prostitution has long been seen as marginal and undesirable, and as a result has been outlawed in many modern countries, in pre-modern and early modern Japan it was an integral part of the economy in certain important ways including as a way to pay off debts or taxes , and contributed as well to popular culture and fashion. Courtesans , especially of the Yoshiwara , were highly romanticized in the popular publications ukiyo-e woodblock prints, illustrated books , etc.
Courtesans' fashions were the inspiration for fashions among both commoners and elites, and they were seen as models of cultured elegance and refinement. As a result, much modern scholarship, especially in art history, has similarly emphasized the Yoshiwara as a site of great cultural dynamism and activity, and as a wellspring of popular culture.
However, scholars such as Amy Stanley point out how oppressive life in the Yoshiwara was for the women living and working there, the vast majority of whom were indentured servants.
There were also male prostitutes in pre-modern and early modern Japan. However, they operated in very different circles and circumstances; in the early modern period, male prostitutes were closely tied to the theater, operating out of kagema jaya teahouses attached to theaters, and not out of brothels. Male prostitutes do not appear in official economic records the way female prostitutes do, and discussions about their moral impact upon communities centered on rather different concerns.