OLD PHOTOS of JAPAN, a photo blog of Japan in the Meiji, Taisho and Showa periods

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Old Photos of Japan
shows photos of Japan between the 1860s and 1930s. In 1854, Japan opened its doors to the outside world for the first time in more than 200 years. It set in motion a truly astounding transformation. As fate would have it, photography had just been invented. As the old country vanished and a new one was born, daring photographers took photos. Discover what life was like with their rare and precious photographs of old Japan.
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1890s • Women Washing

Women Washing

Another studio image portraying housework, in this case the washing of kimono. Some of the women have their sleeves pulled up with cords.

In order to wash them, each kimono used be carefully taken apart. The unstitched pieces were than laboriously washed before being stretched on wooden boards for drying. Afterwards the kimono had to be re-sewn.

This troublesome process was called araihari (洗い張り). Futon (bedding) were washed the same way.

The drudgery of araihari must have weighed terribly heavily on the shoulders of Japan’s already overworked women. Additionally, araihari was not only awfully time-consuming, but it also required that kimonos were hand sewn, greatly increasing the cost. No wonder that kimono lost out to cheaper and more convenient Western clothing.

These days, there are of course modern fabrics, dyes and cleaning methods. But it is too late, the kimono has already lost its central place in Japanese culture.

Lady Lawson’s Highways and Homes of Japan, published in 1910, gives a contemporary observation of araihari through foreign eyes. It contains an interesting tidbit, rice-water used as starch:

The workshops add much to the liveliness of the streets, for they are open-fronted, and the passer-by sees at work carpenters, rice-pounders, and makers of umbrellas, toys, fans, images, kites, baskets, and artificial flowers. The good housewife may also be seen at work, scrubbing or chopping the too odoriferous daikon (radish), while her children play about in the dust nearby; and a little further on laundry work is in progress, and another busy housewife is to be seen spreading her unpicked kimono in the sun to dry. In Japan the rice for family use is boiled all night, and in the morning the clothes that are being washed are dipped in the rice-water and then spread out flat on wooden boards to dry in the sun. The rice-water acts as starch, and the wooden board as an iron, and the dry cloth comes off the board like a new piece of cloth fresh from the loom.1

1 Lawson, Lady (1910). Highways and Homes of Japan. T. Fisher Unwin: 43.

Photographer: Unknown
Publisher: Unknown
Medium: Albumen Print
Image Number: 80129-0047

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Posted by • 2010-06-19
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