A studio photo of two women sleeping in wadded futon bedding with their heads on wooden head supports.
It must be Winter as they use two layers for both mattress and cover. There is an ando lamp near their heads. A folding screen illustrated with flowers and birds stands behind it. Near their feet is a hakohibachi (brazier encased in a wooden box) with a tetsubin (iron hot water kettle).
Photographs of one or two Japanese women sleeping were extremely popular with foreign visitors to Japan during the late 19th century and early 20th century, and there are countless variations on the theme.
What attracted visitors was the custom of sleeping on the floor in “removable” beds. The futon itself, and all the typical Japanese pieces of furniture like the andon lamp, hakohibachi and the screen were seen as extremely exotic.
Visitors were especially intrigued by the hakomakura (箱枕), the wooden support for the head. These were used to preserve the elaborate Japanese hairstyles.
Many foreign visitors who ventured into the countryside during the 19th century would have actually seen scenes like these. They may not have been invited into homes, but Japanese homes in the country side were usually left wide open during the hot season, so that everything inside was visible.
In the same book, Hearn also dwells on the Japanese way of sleeping, once again showing how intrigued foreigners were by this2:
Notice the apparent intimacy of the two women in this photograph. Japan was experienced as a very sensual country by Westerners, as witnessed by books like Pierre Loti‘s Madame Chrysantheme (1887), and Giacomo Puccini‘s opera Madama Butterfly (1904).
Photographers selling souvenir photographs to Western visitors often took advantage of this impression by placing two women in a careful embrace or in the same futon, as in this image.
1 Hearn, Lafcadio (1894). Glimpses of unfamiliar Japan VOL. I. Houghton Mifflin and Company, 123.
2 Hearn, Lafcadio (1894). Glimpses of unfamiliar Japan VOL. II. Houghton Mifflin and Company, 516-517.
Reference for Citations
Duits, Kjeld (). 1890s: Two Women Sleeping, OLD PHOTOS of JAPAN. Retrieved on January 29, 2022 (GMT) from https://www.oldphotosjapan.com/photos/710/two-women-sleeping
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