Monday, June 23, 2008

things Japanese

Lafcadio Hearn to Basil Hall Chamberlain

[August 1893]

Dear Chamberlain,
I have just got your letter, and a copy of the Advertiser which makes me glad that I changed the sentence about the sailors in proofs. I have a great mind to subscribe for the Advertiser, and stop reading the Mail;--I am so sick of all the stuff about missionaries and Christianity. Why can't a newspaper have mercy on people who don't care to have religious stuff forever thrust under their noses? I see the missionaries are still telling the people they are savages, and idolaters, etc., and have been making a row at Bakkan, among other places There's no truth ever told about these matters; what the missionaries really do is never published.

I wonder if the Archduke's Indian servant is a Sikh. Travellers write that the Sikh policemen and troopers look like demigods or kings; and some illustrations in the London News gave me the same notion.

It rejoiced me to hear of your living in the Japanese wing, and in yukata. I am sure it is the very best thing you could do for health in this hot season. Foreign dress soaks through almost immediately, and then becomes a wet wrap which, breathed on by a cold wind, chills the lungs at once. I have been wearing considerably less than a yukata lately during the hottest part of the day; but when I go out in a white suit I wonder how any Japanese can don yofuku in July and August. No matter how thin, a tight-fitting dress is a torture in this heat to anybody accustomed to the kimono.

I had a long letter from the editor of the Atlantic. He wants sketches of real Japanese life (sketches showing emotional character): doesn't care for religious or philosophical sketches. He wants, in short, exactly what I want, but what is very difficult to find. The fixed policy in Kumamoto has been to conceal everything from me, and although there is an approach to kindness in other directions, this policy is not likely to change much. I must devise some means of defeating it.

Reading over some part of "Things Japanese"* the other day, it occurred to me that I might be able to speak of something not known to you about the household bath. Of course it is only a suggestion. It is true, as you say, that all the members of a household, in hierarchical order, use the same water. But the simple statement of this fact might create a wrong idea in European minds. The rule in such cases is worth recording. It is that each person washes outside the bath, and thoroughly rinses the whole body outside the bath, with hot water from a kanadari or other vessel, before entering into the tub proper. Consequently, in a household where this rule is observed, the servant girl who bathes last, will find the water nearly as clear as the Inkyo who bathes first. All the real washing is not done in the bath at all. And in some bathing-places, I have seen this rule strictly observed by hundreds of people,--as at Kitzuki. Of course among the poorer classes there is less nicety. . . .

*Things Japanese (1890) by Basil Hall Chamberlain.

-from The Japanese Letters of Lafcadio Hearn edited with an introduction by Elizabeth Bisland (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1910) p. 147-48.

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