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Sancha

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  • Japanese: 散茶 (sancha)

Sancha were a class of teahouse waitresses who emerged in the early Edo period, and who later developed into the chûsan class of courtesans.

When the Shin-Yoshiwara was established and opened in 1657, the proprietors of its bordellos pressured the shogunate to shut down the city's bathhouses, in order to reduce competition. Many of these bathhouses, forced to close, thus transformed into teahouses, and their bathhouse girls (yuna) became waitresses - sancha. The waitresses soon began to engage in prostitution, and to command a decent rate for their services. In 1665, the Yoshiwara then pressured the shogunate to shut down these teahouses; many sancha waitresses were permitted to start working within the Yoshiwara, but would not be paid for three years, to make up for the amount of business they had already taken away from the Yoshiwara.

The last tayû (the highest rank of courtesan) retired in 1761; the sancha, who had already gained considerable popularity, replaced the tayû in the 18th century as the most popular and elite rank of courtesan, coming to be known as chûsan.

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