Japanese Women Washing, 1890s

Women Washing

Artist Unknown
Publisher Unknown
Medium Albumen Print
Period Meiji
Location Studio
Image No. 80129-0047
Purchase Digital File

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 starch1:

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


Reference for Citations

Duits, Kjeld (). 1890s: Women Washing, OLD PHOTOS of JAPAN. Retrieved on January 29, 2022 (GMT) from https://www.oldphotosjapan.com/photos/708/women-washing

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