A very cheerful Japanese working woman, with one of her breasts exposed, is carrying three huge packs of charcoal on what appears to be a country road.
During the summer, women in the countryside often had much of their body exposed when they worked. Many men wore only a loincloth. Even in the city. This was especially the case for laborers and poor farmers.
Prudish Western visitors, used to Victorian morality, generally were greatly shocked by all this nudity and frequently wrote about it in their diaries and letters.
Nineteenth-century English travel-writer Isabella Lucy Bird (1831-1904), who in 1887 (Meiji 20) travelled deep into Japan’s heartland, described in her book Unbeaten Tracks her surprise upon seeing the scarce clothing of the people1:
This is one of the few times in her book that she was critical of what she saw. Unbeaten Tracks shows Bird as an amazingly open-minded person who was not easily fazed. At a time when foreigners were still extremely rare, she travelled from Tokyo to Nikko, then north through Aomori and the interior of Hokkaido, only accompanied by a Japanese guide.
No western woman had ever traveled alone to the interior of Japan, in many of the places that she visited she was actually the very first foreigner. Often, roads were virtually non-existent and accommodations infested with flees and curious people who would open up the sliding doors of her room to see her change clothes or sleep.
But in spite of her deprivations, she managed to make a very honest account of Japan as it was during the early Meiji Period (1868-1912). Especially her descriptions of the daily life of women and children, and the husband’s deep and warm involvement with their children, are very vivid and give a rare —male observers rarely wrote about this— and valuable insight into Japanese family life during the Meiji Period.
1 Bird, Isabella L. (1911). Unbeaten Tracks in Japan: An account of travels in the interior including visits to the aborigines of Yezo and the shrine of Nikko. John Murray.
Reference for Citations
Duits, Kjeld (). 1890s: Woman Carrying Charcoal, OLD PHOTOS of JAPAN. Retrieved on May 27, 2022 (GMT) from https://www.oldphotosjapan.com/photos/219/woman-carrying-charcoal
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