Japan Ethnography Part I

The house. – The house is almost entirely built in wood; in the cities it has as a rule two floors, in the countryside only one. Its external walls are only partially (one or two sides) built in masonry, the rest consists of verandas (protected on the outside by movable walls, called amado, or open) or by large windows, half-height, which give light to the rooms. These are often numerous and separated from each other by movable walls (fusuma), with decorated papers that allow you to vary the number of rooms. The floors have mats (tatami), of fixed dimensions, the number of which serves, in practice, to indicate the size of a room. With the exception of the vestibule, the kitchen, the bathroom, the various rooms are not normally intended for a particular use. What is most striking about them is the extreme nudity. Not that there is no furniture, but this is sparse and only appears when needed. At mealtime, each diner is brought a pillow, on which he kneels (Japanese way of sitting), and a small lacquered table, about 20 centimeters high, on which he finds or places what he needs. After the meal, everything disappears in the todanas (closets). In the evening, thin mattresses are removed from these, which serve as a bed, and spread out on the floor. The men’s pillow is long and narrow, the women’s one is made of wood and has, on the top, a padding on which they rest the cheek so as not to spoil the hairstyle too much. In the morning, everything disappears again. In winter, the family usually gather around the hibachi, a low iron brazier, where coal burns. Characteristic of the Japanese house is the tokonoma, a kind of large niche or alcove, from the mezzanine floor, where art objects are usually placed, especially vases with flowers arranged according to the rules of an aesthetic dating back to the century. XVI. The tokonoma has a kakemono on the bottom, pictures on silk, folded in roll. The kakemono is sometimes changed, with other objects, to harmonize everything with the season, with time, with the particular moment of family life, etc. It also serves as a home shrine, where the tablets with the name of the ancestors are placed, to communicate to them notable family events; guests are received in front of it.

With European civilization, Western houses and furniture also appeared in Japan. All cities now have entire neighborhoods built in the west.

According to HEALTHINCLUDE.COM, the Japanese are the cleanest man in the world. At home he is without shoes, which he leaves at the entrance, and his house almost always has a bathroom. The bath is taken very hot (about 43 °) and a damp cloth is used to dry. The bathroom is an essential part of Japanese life; even the humblest take at least one a day. There is a myriad of public toilets.

Clothing. – It is varied and sometimes complex. The men wear a cotton loincloth (shita – obi) in contact with the flesh, on which they place a shirt (juban) of cotton or silk, accompanied, in winter, by a petticoat (d ō gi) of the same fabric. Above is the dress proper or kimono, replaced, in winter, by two padded dresses (shita – gi and uwa-gi), held in place by a belt (obi). On special occasions, she wears a hakama, a kind of open skirt, and a heavy cloak, the haori, both of silk. The feet wear tabi, a kind of thick stockings with only the big toe isolated from the other toes by a groove through which the straps of the z ō ri or waraji pass, a kind of straw sandals. They also fit the geta, specially shaped wooden clogs. At home or in the summer, the kimono is replaced by the light cotton yukata, which is subject to more or less substantial variations in relation to possibilities and employment. The women put on their hips two small aprons (koshi – maki), on which they wear one or two kimonos first tightened by a strip of scata, held straight at the loins by a fold (obi – age) and supported by a cord (obi – dome). The female hair is very neat; the complicated hairstyle decorated with combs and large brooches varies with age and social status.

For some time the European custom has been slowly but surely supplanting the picturesque indigenous one. Almost all men and many women today have their hair cut in the European style and our company dress is prescribed at official receptions. In the bourgeoisie it is not uncommon to find the most capricious Japanese-European hybridism in matters of clothing.

Social institutions and traditional uses in social and family life. Confucian ethics still strongly influence family morality today. The father is the absolute head of the family, who owes him respect and submission.

Japan Ethnography 1