high-ranking courtesan in Japan, whose occupation arose in the Edo period and was largely replaced by geisha by the late 19th century

Oiran (花魁) were courtesans in Japan. Oiran were part of Japanese society during the Edo Period, (1600–1868). Prostitution was legal then, but only in special neighborhoods that were closed to outsiders. There were different kinds of oiran, depending on their beauty, skills in art, education, and more. High-ranking oiran were called tayū (太夫). Only nobles could be with one. Tayū had many servants, and when they went outside, their servants carried them and followed them, making a procession. They wore very expensive clothes and jewelry. Any man who wished to be with an oiran had to follow difficult rituals and etiquette.

An oiran with a client and apprentice, ukiyo-e painting by Suzuki Haronubu (1765)

Geisha replaced oiran. Geisha practiced common types of entertainment enjoyed by the people of that time. They became more popular than oiran. The last known oiran was in 1761. A few women still practice the arts of the oiran today (without sex) to continue the cultural heritage.

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