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Niigata is the capital city of Niigata prefecture , and has a long history as a significant port town on the Sea of Japan coast. Primarily a merchant city, Niigata lacked a castle, and a magistrates' office - from which two magistrates and a staff of about a dozen oversaw the city's operations - was the chief site of samurai activity.
The city saw much cultural activity, including theater, sumo , and festivals, and emerged as a major site, famous throughout the realm, of prostitution. The business of the rice trade fluctuated, and at one time in the 18th century, the port became silted up and too shallow for the large tax-rice ships.
However, by the beginning of the 19th century, as many as 2, vessels might visit Niigata in a year, carrying not only tax rice, but a wide variety of other goods, including marine products from Ezo , sugar, Chinese medicine, and Ryukyuan red ink.
For a number of years in the s to early s, ships sponsored by Satsuma han including, chiefly, ones run by the Hamazaki family brought sugar , sweet potatoes, and perhaps various Chinese goods, to Niigata to trade for cinnabar and medicinal goods. By the early 19th century, the sex trade had grown so strong and prevalent in the city - and so essential to the city's economic prosperity - that officials found they could not curb it even if they wanted to.
Ultimately, unable to regulate prostitution in any way without risking harming the city's economy, officials eliminated the legal distinction between prostitutes and other women, thus opening the door for individual women, unaffiliated with a brothel, to begin operating as prostitutes independently. Many had experience working in inns, teahouses, or brothels elsewhere in the realm. The shogunal magistrate placed in charge of the city at that time, Kawamura Nagataka , implemented a variety of policies restricting legal or recognized prostitution to certain areas where it was already prevalent, and officially categorized establishments and women in those districts according to categories employed in other shogunal cities.