Oiran were also courtesans in Japan, and are of course featured prominently in shunga Japanese erotic art. Oiran were courtesans of great skill and while some would like to call them high class hookers, they were much more than sex workers. Oiran were women of pleasure, but they also had many skills. Oiran dressed magnificently and set many a trend with their exquisite way of dressing. They were skilled in the arts and painted beautifully. They wore their make-up in a sensual manner, their hair was always up and knotted with gorgeous clips. They were trendsetters!
Oiran, in shunga, may be hard to separate from courtesans. They look perfect, they are beautiful, and they are always pleasuring men. The word Oiran means ‘the lass at my place’ but it also means flower, and you will see flowers on either the Oiran’s kimono or the man’s robes. Or somewhere in the background. The other thing you will always see in shunga art that features Oiran, is pleasure.
Oiran pleasured men. It may have been sexual pleasure, primarily, but it was also creative pleasure. Oiran could play music beautifully, they could paint beautifully, and they could have educated and intellectual conversation. Oiran knew the art of tea making, the art of flower arrangement and the art of talking.
Men would find Oiran at special Japanese brothels or in particular neighbourhoods. Many of these neighbourhoods exist today, and offer all kinds of entertainment – dining, theatre, music and parades.
The Japanese honour the Oiran women, most particular in Shenga paintings. They’re erotic and beautiful too.