(source of good luck)
If you mention this place to a Japanese person they have a flood images run through their head; Edo Period nightlife, geisha, drinking sake, oiran, traditional entertainment, prostitution, and even political intrigue in old Japan. It used to be the “pleasure quarters” (遊郭) of Edo and also in Tokyo until the American Occupation which decided that somehow having a place dedicated to adult entertainment was a bad idea.
What a bunch of assholes.
Anyways, the name is made of 2 kanji, 吉 (kichi, yoshi) and it means good luck. The second kanji is 原 which means “source,” “primary” or “raw.” Knowing that, you can see why I translated the name as I did.
The original location may have pre-dated the establishment of the Tokugawa shogunate and it just happened to be located near Nihonbashi, the epicenter of many roads flowing into/out of Edo. After the Meireiki Fire which devastated that area of Edo, the pleasure quarters were moved to a located surrounded by moats…. either to protect them from outside fires, or more directly to protect the rest of the city from the craziness that might start fires there.
For most of the Edo Period, it was an isolated area only in terms of the moats. Customers came and went casually. That said, the girls who worked there were in a state of semi-slavery (a little social mobility was possible, but I guess in the west we would call them indentured servants). But the girls were basically forbidden to leave unless their freedom was purchased by a rich merchant or samurai. Most of the women who worked in the Yoshiwara had either been sold by their families and thus disowned or had no one else financially responsible for them upon death. Most of them were interred/enshrined at Joukanji. It’s depressing.
Today, there is no official address called Yoshiwara. There is no train station called Yoshiwara. This was all by design of MacArthur and his cronies, whose puritanical sensibilities managed to persist on paper and geography, but in some ways were totally ignored in that today the former Yoshiwara is still very much red light district. There are residences here now, but none of those people use the word Yoshiwara, except as a reference to history or a joke.
Today, girls who have decided to make a career in the Japanese sex industry sometimes even refer to themselves as Yoshiwara girls.