Woman in Japan OG

Woman In Japan – Godey’s Lady’s Book (1886)

This profile on the women of Japan appeared in the March 1886 issue of Godey’s Lady’s Book.

By Helen H.S. Thompson

There are two distinct types of physiognomy strongly indicated among the Japanese women. The higher classes possess clearly cut features, on fine, long, oval faces, deep sunken eye sockets, oblique eyes, with long, drooping lids, and high arched eyebrows, lofty, narrow forehead, small red lips, pointed chin, and very small hands and feet.

Among the agricultural and laboring class, are seen the round flattened face, level eyes and expanded nose. The grotesque pictures of Japanese life familiar to all, are usually drawn from this class. The ladies of Japan are noticeable for taste in dress, and when occasion requires are attired in elegant and splendid costumes. The grace and richness of the attire worn by the women of rank and wealth is a frequent surprise to the traveler. In our travel through the empire we were not infrequently guests in an ex- damio’s home, and among the samarai class, where we beheld long, trailing robes of exquisitely embroidered silks, chiefly of white, crimson or ashen hues, open bodice crossed and filled in with soft, rich laces, that would delight a connoisseur; luxuriant hair flowing over the shoulders, or bound in one beautiful tress, or formed into an elegant and indescribable coiffure upon the head, each indicating age and condition, whether maiden, wife or widow, with picturesque fan, flowing, open sleeve, punctilious etiquette and charming manners.

Godey’s Lady’s Book— Louis Antoine Godey began publishing Godey’s Lady’s Book in 1830. He designed his monthly magazine specifically to attract the growing audience of literate American women. The magazine was intended to entertain, inform, and educate the women of America.

The following is a naive description of the women of the educated class of Dai Nippon, by a Japanese at the Paris International Congress:

“I will commence, gentlemen, with the head, which is neither too large nor too small. Figure to yourselves large, black eyes, surmounted by eyebrows of a strict arch, bordered by black lashes; a face oval, white, very slightly rose-colored on the cheeks; a straight, high nose, small, regular, fresh mouth, whose thin lips disclose from time to time, white teeth ranged regularly; a narrow, high forehead, bordered by long, blue-black hair, arched with perfect regularity. Join this head by a round neck to a body large but not fat, with slender loins; hands and feet small but not thin; a breast whose gentle swell is not exaggerated. Add to these the following attributes: A gentle manner, a voice like the nightingale, which makes one divine its artlessness; a look at once lively, sweet, gracious, and always charming; witty words pronounced distinctly, accompanied by charming smiles, an air sometimes calm, gay, or thoughtful, but always majestic; manners noble, simple, a little proud, but without incurring the accusation of presumption!”

The Japanese have but one legal wife. Yet is allowed more for justifiable reasons, if able to support them. If childless, the wife often urges her husband to take another to preserve the family name. But the number of plural marriages is small. Divorce is allowed when a wife is disobedient or talks too much.

The traveler in Japan is surprised to note the superiority of woman’s position over that which is found in other Asiatic nations, in spite of the prevailing superstitions of the East, which deny to woman a soul, and inculcating abject obedience. The feet of these Japanese women are not bound, being as free to walk or visit as are the women of America. Because of this liberty, greater self-respect is induced, with a dignity of bearing very pleasing to the beholder. The girls of the samurai class and in families of rank and wealth, are educated by private tutors, and are well versed in the traditional, historic and heroic lore of their own land.

The fruits of this training are manifest in many ways: Their heroic and generous emulation, their order, neatness and household adornment, their love of beauty and taste in dress, as prescribed by their own standard, cannot be outdone. In these things they are peers of the ladies of any land. Judged by the same rule in those characteristics which shine with such lustrous beauty in the mothers of other nations, they are as rich in patience and tenderness, and exalted in sacrifice and devotion.

With untiring submission, the Japanese woman fulfills the fundamental laws of her being, as taught by the dogmas of her creed, i. e., obedience. During childhood it is implicit obedience to her father, after marriage to her husband, and in case of his death to her eldest son. The Buddhist creed teaches that she is but a snare, a delusion, an unholy thing, an impediment. Yet in spite of these thralls, in many cases her natural charms and many virtues cause her to rule by might of love. However, we saw many sad-eyed women. How else can it be, when taught that their only hope in the future is to be re-born as a man, which is only possible through the ebb and flow of ages of transmigration.

The large influx of foreigners exerts a helpful influence in their behalf, as many of the leading men of the nation have released themselves from the shackles of custom, yielding that honor and courtesy to their wives which they have witnessed so loyally given by other nations. A potent influence, also, in overcoming the wrongs of Japanese women, is found in the present Emperor and Empress, who have the sagacity to perceive that the nation in embryo is in the home, and that by reforming the marriage-laws, they lift the women of their country to the level of citizenship, and by a system of more liberal education fit them to hold it.

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