Mizu shobai
Mizu shōbai or the water trade, is the traditional euphemism for the night-time entertainment business in Japan
Japan is an island nation in East Asia. Located in the Pacific Ocean, it lies to the east of the Sea of Japan, China, North Korea, South Korea and Russia, stretching from the Sea of Okhotsk in the north to the East China Sea and Taiwan in the south...

, provided by hostess or snack bars
Hostess bar
Hostess clubs are a common feature in the night-time entertainment industry of Japan, east Asian countries and other areas with a high east Asian population. They employ primarily female staff and cater to males seeking drinks and attentive conversation. The more recent host clubs are similar...

, bar
Bar (establishment)
A bar is a business establishment that serves alcoholic drinks — beer, wine, liquor, and cocktails — for consumption on the premises.Bars provide stools or chairs that are placed at tables or counters for their patrons. Some bars have entertainment on a stage, such as a live band, comedians, go-go...

s, and cabaret
Cabaret is a form, or place, of entertainment featuring comedy, song, dance, and theatre, distinguished mainly by the performance venue: a restaurant or nightclub with a stage for performances and the audience sitting at tables watching the performance, as introduced by a master of ceremonies or...

s. Kabukichō in Shinjuku, Tokyo
Shinjuku, Tokyo
is one of the 23 special wards of Tokyo, Japan. It is a major commercial and administrative center, housing the busiest train station in the world and the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building, the administration center for the government of Tokyo.As of 2008, the ward has an estimated population...

 is Japan's most famous area where one can patronize the water trade, as well as its more carnal counterpart —the sex industry composed of soapland
A ' is a Japanglish and indicates a paradise for men in Japanese. It is said, since in Japan prostitution is officially prohibited by the government, that it is a type of brothel in Japan where male clients can engage in sexual activity with female prostitutes, although officially the clubs do...

s, pink salon
Pink salon
A ', or ' for short, is a type of brothel in Japan which specialises in oral sex.A pink salon is unusual in that the service is offered in small booths within a large open-plan room. The client is served soft drinks or alcoholic beverages by the "companion" who performs fellatio on him...

s, health
Fashion health
', or health for short, is a form of massage parlor which circumvents Japanese anti-prostitution laws by offering a range of services that stop short of sexual intercourse....

, and image club
Image club
An ', or ', is a type of brothel in Japan similar to fashion health parlors. They differ in that image clubs are themed along popular sexual fantasies such as an office, a doctor's surgery, a classroom, or a train carriage...


While the actual origin of the term mizu shōbai is debatable, it is likely the term came into use during the Tokugawa shogunate
Tokugawa shogunate
The Tokugawa shogunate, also known as the and the , was a feudal regime of Japan established by Tokugawa Ieyasu and ruled by the shoguns of the Tokugawa family. This period is known as the Edo period and gets its name from the capital city, Edo, which is now called Tokyo, after the name was...

 (1603–1868). The Tokugawa period saw the development of large bathhouse
Public bathing
Public baths originated from a communal need for cleanliness. The term public may confuse some people, as some types of public baths are restricted depending on membership, gender, religious affiliation, or other reasons. As societies have changed, public baths have been replaced as private bathing...

s and an expansive network of roadside inns offering hot baths and sexual release, as well as the expansion of geisha districts and courtesan
A courtesan was originally a female courtier, which means a person who attends the court of a monarch or other powerful person.In feudal society, the court was the centre of government as well as the residence of the monarch, and social and political life were often completely mixed together...

 quarters in cities and towns throughout the country. Bearing relation to ukiyo
Ukiyo described the urban lifestyle, especially the pleasure-seeking aspects, of Edo-period Japan . The "Floating World" culture developed in Yoshiwara, the licensed red-light district of Edo , which was the site of many brothels, chashitsu tea houses, and kabuki theaters frequented by Japan's...

(浮世 and 憂世), or "the floating world", mizu shōbai is a metaphor
A metaphor is a literary figure of speech that uses an image, story or tangible thing to represent a less tangible thing or some intangible quality or idea; e.g., "Her eyes were glistening jewels." Metaphor may also be used for any rhetorical figures of speech that achieve their effects via...

for floating, drinking and impermanence.

According to one theory proposed by the Nihon Gogen Daijiten, the term comes from the Japanese expression , where literal meaning of the phrase "matter of chance", , is "matter of water". In the entertainment business, income depends on a large number of fickle factors like popularity among customers, the weather, the state of the economy, and success and failure change as rapidly as a flow of water. The Nihon Zokugo Daijiten, on the other hand, notes that the term may derive from the expression , lit. "muddy water earning business", for earning a living in the red-light districts, or from the Edo-era expression for a public teahouse.
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