Monday, May 30, 2016

Japanese Toilette Etiquette

 Victorian era view of a "Japanese belle" making her toilette — or as we know it today— she is engaging in her beauty regime.

The New Year Toilette of a Japanese Belle

The most elaborate New Year toilettes in the world are made by Japanese belles. The women of Japan have been having a New Year for hundreds of years before the women of Christian countries, according to their chronology of the age of the world, and they have learned to make much more of it than the women of shorter-lived nations. 


The New Year in Japan, falling a little later than ours, brings the flowery kingdom into its full floweriness; and on that day, the whole glad New Year is called in to celebrate the advent of another twelfth month. It is commonly supposed  that women in Japan hold a secondary place to men and that no festival could be carried on by them and for them. But, far from being the case, there is no nation on earth that values its women as highly as the Japanese, and no country where the New Year is more beautifully ushered in by them. 

Women have a strange way, all over the world, of bringing in the New Year. Other holidays are common to all, men and women, but the New Year seems devoted to women alone. In Japan on New Year's day the ladies are up early and making a most elaborate toilette. The toilette of a Japanese women is always a refined one, and the sweetest of cosmetics and the most delicate of scents are employed for her beautification. But the New Year toilet is something specially fine. 

On the New Year, the Japanese belle, like the Chinese one, wears no old clothes. Everything from her flowing silk outer garments to her straight, delicately woven undergarments is all new. Her favorite color is pink, and ter robes are gorgeous in colors of pink and red. She makes her toilette sitting on the floor with a silk robe around her. When she gets out of her peculiar little bed upon the floor and lifts her shapely head from her smooth, round pillow, she gets into a perfumed bath, in the taking of which she is assisted by her female servants, if she be a woman of very high rank, and by the women of her household if she be of good family but not wealthy. Her perfumed bath is poured into a tub and a little matting screen is set around the tub. Into the water she gets, while her women sit outside the screen upon the clean matting floor.

When the time comes for a shampoo of the flesh, the bather rises and the women of the family assist her, making a sport of this daily ablution. In this respect, the heathen differs from the Christian. A Christian woman conceals the fact that she bathes, and beyond doing so daily for cleanliness spends no time in the bath. It is not even etiquette to mention it. But the heathen talks of it, and the fables are full of the wives of high dignitaries whose daily round of happenings took place in the gardens through which they walked while going to and from the bath.

The bath over, and on New Year's day it is prolonged, the Japanese woman bather sets up her little easel and, taking her place upon the floor, begins to beautify herself. Her fine, soft, brown skin is massaged with grease perfumes and washed with scents. Then into the long brows are smoothed streaks of black greased paint to make them longer. The peculiar slanting eyes of the Japanese belle are caused largely by the way she puts on the brow paint, and the tales that are told of operations to change the form of the Japanese eyes are mostly without foundation. The style for the eyes is less slanting than it used to be, and what we would flippantly call the style for 1898 is almost as straight as our own. A touch of carmine is rubbed into the lips of the belle to make a pointed pout and a tiny bit of rouge is put upon the point of her chin.

The Japanese rouge is a smooth, soft thing, much like our vaseline, and is not unpleasant to thought or touch. When her toilet is made the Japanese belle plays with her children upon the floor, talks with her women, embroiders and conducts her household affairs. She does not receive strangers into the house, as it is not etiquette to do so, nor does she receive men callers unless they accompany her husband home, in which case she may, if they be specially honored friends of the family, wait upon them with the New Year rice cake and the whey. The Japanese belle makes her pretty New Year toilette for her own husband, and when you see how carefully she prepares herself to be beautiful in his eyes you think that, after all, the religion that animates her life is not so bad
—Ralph Cruger, January 2, 1898


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