Thursday, March 31, 2011

Off to Japan - A Visit to Japan in 1898

Godey’s Lady’s Book, published between 1830–1898, reported on a visit to Japan in its June, 1898 issue.

Japanese Glimpses by By Mabel Cronise Jones

In view of the really palatial steamers now to be found on the Pacific Ocean, a flying trip to Japan will soon be considered the natural sequel to a trans-continental tour. It is extremely easy to visit the Orient today, and unless one spends his funds needlessly in little extravagances, the trip may be made very economically. Even a fortnight in Japan can give a person a good general idea of the more prominent features of Japanese daily life.

At the same time it must be freely acknowledged that a score of years could be well utilized in studying all the minute details of the social life as it is exemplified in the different castes.

Japanese women, unless of the lower classes, are well educated, speaking, of course, from a Japanese point of view. We should certainly not consider them well educated, for their learning is for the most part confined to superstitions and mythical history, and is bounded by the confines of Japan. Polygamy is not allowed, but the husband can secure a divorce through legal processes. A wife convicted of infidelity can be put to death by her husband — he, however, can commit the same crime openly and neither law nor society will offer a remonstrance.

When a maiden marries, her teeth are blackened, her eyebrows plucked out, and artificial ugliness is cultivatedt o the utmost limit. She is taught that her first duty is to render herself obnoxious to all men but her husband. Theoretically, he issupposed to love her “soul,” despite the outward ugliness. Practically he does nothing of the sort. A father in Japan may legally sell his daughter for a certain term of years.

The bath is a great institution in Japan, and forms a kind of people’s parliament. The men and women make free use of the same bath-houses without the faintest sense of immodesty. All the gossip of the day is retailed in these resorts.

The tea-houses are another peculiar feature of the country. The wayside tea-house is a picturesque structure, and the girls who serve the fragrant drink in the daintiest of cups are worth going a long way to see.

The children look quaint enough at their play–clad, as a rule, in one looseflowing robe, and with their bare feet tied on to clumsy wooden sandals. The town costume of the Japanese men consists of a loose silk robe, extending from the neck to the ankles. It is gathered in at the waist by a girdle of brocaded or embroidered silk; over this is worn a wide-sleeved “spencer” or jacket, and this is always embroidered with the armorial device of the wearer, provided,of course, that he belongs to the upperclasses and can boast of an armorial device. Trousers are only worn by officials on occasions of great State ceremony. There are also on our Japanese gentleman, when he goes out for a walk, a cylindrical cap of bamboo and silk, white stockings and straw sandals. As a rule, the men’s bodies are elaborately tattooed with pictures of lions, dragons, and tigers.

The general attire of the women is very much like that of the men, except that their hair is arranged more elaborately and artistically.

There is much that is truly charming and delightful about the Japanese. They are quick, alert, energetic, enthusiastic; scrupulously neat, and possessed of an innate love for the beautiful. To see Japan once is to see a little glimpse of fairyland. When one sees it the second time, however, he becomes aware of a certain moral degradation and blindness which exist there, and which make all philanthropists pray for the introduction there of our purer and higher civilization.