The district of Yoshiwara in Tokyo has a 400-year history of catering to our carnal cravings. In order to reign in widespread male and female prostitution, in 1617 the government restricted prostitution only to this area, located just North of Asakusa. To this day Yoshiwara remains both a historic landmark but also an active red-light district, and has gone on to inspire many popular works of cinema and literature.
But for designer Yayoi Okano, Yoshiwara was more than just a neighborhood known for its sex trade. It was home.
Okano grew up in Yoshiwara where, despite its reputation, people looked out for each other. She recalls her and her friends getting to know the barkers who stood out on the street trying to get male clientele into their establishments. They’d talk to her and her friends, offering them water if they were thirsty.
Last year Okano decided to create a brand of Yoshiwara-inspired souvenirs called Shin-Yoshiwara (shin means ‘new’). Together with her friend and designer Daisuke Yokoyama they came up with a fitting logo that proudly represents what Yoshiwara stands for. The pair of female breasts carries the characters of the name inside them, and is simple and classy without being overtly erotic. It’s a brilliant logo that doesn’t run or hide; it stands proud of its heritage.
Aside from the logo, Okano designs every item herself. And after a grassroots movement of selling her souvenirs at local shops in the area, she’s finally found a space where she and her designs can call home. The shop, which just opened this month, carries prints, fans, tea towels and many other small souvenirs. But if you can’t make it in person, there’s also the web shop.