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Gender and Law in the Japanese Imperium$
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Susan L. Burns and Barbara J. Brooks

Print publication date: 2013

Print ISBN-13: 9780824837150

Published to Hawaii Scholarship Online: November 2016

DOI: 10.21313/hawaii/9780824837150.001.0001

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The Maria Luz Incident

The Maria Luz Incident

Personal Rights and International Justice for Chinese Coolies and Japanese Prostitutes

(p.21) Chapter 1 The Maria Luz Incident
Gender and Law in the Japanese Imperium

Douglas Howland

University of Hawai'i Press

This chapter explores a seminal moment in the history of modern prostitution. In 1871, when one of the Chinese coolies from the Peruvian cargo ship, the Maria Luz, ran away to seek asylum, his plight became an international incident. Japanese officials subsequently freed the coolies on board the Maria Luz on the basis of the illegality of their contracts, but Peru's legal representative quickly sued. He argued that indentured prostitution in Japan was a practice equivalent to the coolie “trade,” so there was no legal basis for Japanese actions. Ōe Taku (1847–1921), the judge presiding over the case, agreed that the two practices were similar violations of individual rights and that both represented a subversion of the justice demanded by international norms. In the wake of his decision in the Maria Luz case, Ōe issued the first Meiji era ruling intended to improve the condition of prostitutes in Japan.

Keywords:   modern prostitution, Chinese coolies, Japanese prostitutes, Maria Luz, Ōe Taku, individual rights, prostitution, international human rights

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