Welcome to the world of Japanese domestic human trafficking of young girls and women for the sole purpose of sexual slavery.
Many documents of the day simply call them “inmates” or “prisoners” of the red-light districts where they worked and lived.
As for the Japanese Government, they were quite proud of the nation’s brothels, and often remarked on the “civilized” way Japan had contained and controlled these places of “necessary evil”, with little or no consideration for the women and children that were the 24-hour-a-day target of men from both Japan and around the world.
Originally sold by their parents into the sex trade while they were children, they began as servants and then assistants to the older prostitutes. Over the years, they were trained by degree, initiated as to what to expect, and “got down to business” shortly after puberty, probably no later than 13 or 14.
Kids who were not deemed “attractive enough”, or who lacked whatever “sex appeal” a 13-year-old was expected to have in Japan at that time, continued on in the brothel district as drudges, servants, and go-fers for all the rest.
There were the occasional women who did enter as “adults” — for example, a women of the Samurai class might be sent to the brothels for a set term of years (three to five) by way of punishment for some grave moral lapse or gross indiscretion.
All of these “inmates” — the young and the old — would get traded around between brothels (via a complicated system of protocols between the owners) in order to keep things “New” and “Fresh” for paying customers.
Life was generally not a bowl of cherries for these girls; disease, botched abortions, and higher suicide rates took their toll. Their lot in life was also the subject of many a tragic romance that played out in books and on the stage.
Possibly to appease certain Western sensitivities, the younger prostitutes were generally not photographed for images like this that were sold to foreigners in the photo and souvenir shops. However, prostitutes who still appear to be in their “childhood years” [12-14] are occasional seen.
(via Okinawa Soba)