Japan for most of its history was a closed off hermit of a country locked off from the rest of the world from a mix of remoteness, official policies banning foreigners and wanting to keep hush-hush top-secret programs of breeding ninjas with tentacle porn monsters or “nintacles”. That all changed once American Matthew Perry came on to the scene. In 1854 Admiral Perry of the US Navy ended Japan’s policy of seclusion by using America’s famous softly, softly, policy of “trade with us or we will fucking kill you.”
With their eyes open to the fact that there was a whole other world outside of their little island the Japanese rushed to modernize their primitive feudal society. Anxious to be with all the “cool nations” Japan quickly dropped cultural habits that it had practised for centuries in hopes that it would get picked to go to the prom with all the Western countries. Over the years these Japanese cultural habits that were outlawed became unmentionable in Japan but in recent history they have become popular in the West but are still taboo in Japan.
Called “Irezumi” in Japan, Tattoos used to be very popular in the land of the rising sun. Japanese society in the Edo period ( basically the 1600s until Japan was cracked open by Perry) was very conservative with the samurai and their honor based society ruling the land. Wealth was seen as almost disgraceful and merchants were placed at the bottom of society’s totem pole to be shit on by everyone else. Laws passed by the ruling samurai class were in place to protect this order to the extreme result that people weren’t allowed to flaunt wealth through clothes with designs, jewellery, etc. But people are people, and those that have it want to show their bling. Over the years the Merchant class got around restrictions against flamboyant clothing but the working class, the 99% of Japanese population, got around the restrictions by inking themselves with elaborate tattoos all over their body.
After the rulers of Japan saw the shock of the first white visitors looking at their tattooed population they quickly banned the practice and it lay dormant and over time became associated with Yakuza gangsters and criminality. So much so that now people with tattoos in japan can’t get life insurance, buy a house or even enjoy one of Japan’s most favoured past-times jumping naked into a steaming hot-spring.
Ohaguro = Grills
Before the white devils came to Japan for almost two thousand years the highest of fashion was Ohaguro or the practise of painting your teeth black. Women, and men too, would dye their teeth twice a day with a smelly, tar like substance.
Throughout the ages in Japan the sections of society who blackened their teeth changed and by the time Perry sailed into Tokyo Harbor it was married women, unmarried women who were older than 18, prostitutes and geisha. As a bonus the blackening agent would also prevent tooth decay. The practice died out when European fashion looked down its giant foreign nose at the custom, only to have getting decorations on your teeth through grills, or jewellery on your teeth, explode in urban America.
Homosexuality in Japan
Gay men in Japan face intense discrimination. They can’t come out to their co-workers for fear of being ostracized or even fired and often marry into loveless marriages just to satisfy societies’ expectations. But it didn’t always used to be like this. Japan was an intensely macho society and like other macho-macho cultures around the world were seriously into man-on-man action. The Spartans, as well as the infamous all gay Greek army, the Sacred Band of Thebes, and of course the Japanese samurai, all encouraged their warriors to look down upon the weaker sex as nothing but baby machines and look at their hard bodied warrior brothers with lust. After Japan opened up it tried to stamp out sodomy in Japan. Which of course just went underground and is presently actually experiencing a kind of renaissance in Japan, a few decades after the rest of the world.
Japanese girls are easy … or they were
Before Perry pried Japan open, exposing it to the world the population lived a feudal life style. A fraction of the population were the samurai and they, like the European knights of old, owned all the land. The majority of population were peasants who then worked that land. Since only one section of society, the samurai, owned all the land it was only their own women who were expected to have a clear lineage. Their daughters couldn’t have sex with whoever they wanted as they might get pregnant and then cause problems with passing down the land to the next generation. These maidens were known as otome and lived by the standards similar to puritan Victorian England women.
The rest of the population lived by a different enlightened set of rules, it didn’t matter if they had kids before marriage as there was little chance they could own land anyway. So throughout Japan there lived a very liberal society were women were expected to be sexual experienced before settling down into marriage. Until the western inspired civil code of 1898 women could own land, had equal rights and could divorce as they pleased . After the 1898 civil code was passed all these rights were striped away and women found themselves treated as minors by the law, totally at the mercy of their male husbands and relatives.
Even though Perry came along bringing all of his western morality with him as the Japanese government discovered a population’s sexuality is hard to stamp out. Through-out the 1870s and 90s there were a number of books, journal articles and other printed media that espoused the western, virgin worshipping, oppressed sexuality of Victorian Europe, but it didn’t quite take hold in the rice fields of Japan.
For centuries the peasant and urban lower classes followed the Japanese custom of yobai. Yobai was a culture where a women’s sexuality ruled. Yobai allowed a women living with her parents to have numerous lovers with no social stigma attached. Any pregnancies that resulted were looked upon as an indication of a woman’s fertility and were often raised by the girls’ parents as their own. But as the population moved into the cities of Japan Yobai was slowly beaten out of the population by western Morales and the desire of the Japanese government to turn everyone, outside of the prostitute class, into otome or Virgin Marys.
But laws spawned by western prudish standards couldn’t totally stamp out the Japanese view of sex. Right up to 40s a common punishment in Japan for out of control daughters was to sell them to a brothel. After a few, months, or years, they would be bought back, lesson learned and still eligible for marriage.
Marijuana or cannabis has been in Japan for thousands of years and was widely farmed because of the superior hemp fibres found in the plant stem. Hemp production was a major part of Japan’s economy until cotton was introduced from foreign suppliers. Cannabis and hemp were still grown as a recreational drug and farming product until the American occupation. American General Douglas MacArthur and his colleagues rewrote the Japanese constitution in 1948 and included the Taima Torishimari Ho, the Cannabis Control Act.
Drugs that were thought of as “normal” in Japanese society before the occupation, were after the American occupation demonized. Demonized to the point were a situation like infamous fall from grace of “Talento” Noriko Sakai can produce anti-drug hysteria for what was a government sponsored drug 65 years ago.
As a nation of Buddha lovers the Japanese before Perry shunned flesh for reasons similar to India’s Hindus, they believed in reincarnation and didn’t want to kill Uncle Sazuki’s reincarnated soul that came back to this world as a cow. Japan’s rulers since the 600s A.D. actual banned the eating of flesh (although rural areas used to sneak some wild game here or there). Once Japan’s policy of seclusion ended the Japanese were dismayed that their vegetarian habits were looked down upon by the white devils. Not wanting to be seen as backward the government overthrew the anti-meat laws and promptly started slaughtering animals for the cooking pot left and right. The Emperor signalled this change, in 1872, when he ate a nice big juicy steak.
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Notice how in historical dramas, you never see women with blackened teeth. That always bugs me!~
Good post, very interesting. A lot of the time reforms done in response to the west seem to do more harm than good. I wonder if there were a set of unspoken rules to regulate homosexual behaviour in baths and so forth, otherwise it would have been a literal shit storm. How did they go about courting another bloke in the 17th century?
A group of geishas with black teeth would sure make a really good metal band though, I know I would buy their CD.
Baths in Japan have always been a place for … bathing. Before the Europeans came there wasn’t a nudity taboo in Japan. Men and woman bathed naked together in the onsens, with no problems.
Interesting Yoso. Do you have some sources of where you get all this information from? I would like to read about it some more.
Hah. A lot of the time, the social mores of the west were doing more harm than good to westerners too! Freud and Jung quickly found that the poor in Europe simply didn’t *have* the rampant neuroses of the rich and middle classes, and easily deduced that the intense shame and self-loathing that came along with the strict Victorian moral code (nevermind the dress code) were the cause.
It’s much of the reason we abandoned that crap in the first place. And by “abandoned” I mean “ran away shrieking, as fast as cultural change can be had”. By the 1920s, young American women were working, drinking, smoking, fucking, and voting their way to a revolution, having utterly rejected everything of the Victorian age. Nudism was another reactionary social movement that got its start at the end of the 19th century, under the assumption that if desperately hiding every inch of skin made you a lunatic, going naked would free your mind and make you far happier. The sexual revolution of the 1960’s is another extension of this reaction, in no small part enabled by the birth control pill, but also as a reaction to Victorian sexual mores, which truly, weren’t working as intended.
It really sucks that the west forced all that crap on you guys *just* before we smashed that system.
A concept I’ve been thinking about recently is that all movies are told through the top percentage of a societies most wealthy. We only hear stories of Kings and Queens for multiple reasons but that translates into only hearing about the morales and behaviors of the elite, those obsessed with virginity and family lineage. I’m sure if you look at the lineage of the peasant class of most societies it would be universally orgies and general good time.
The west has smashed nothing. I have never known a Japanese woman to have all the sexual hang ups and dysfunctions like western women I have known. Nothing is smashed, it simply lurks, menacingly, beneath the surface.
Yosomono, forget my question, but if you know if any other sources other than the book you’ve linked, I would be interested in knowing what they are.
About nudity in Japan?
That and about the other stuff you wrote about too.
I put links into each entry. But if you’re more specific I can give you more links. For example for nudity in japan:
*“Heine’s illustration of the bathhouse in Shimoda was removed from later editions of the Narrative. Where intercultural relations are concerned, morality obviously was a two-way mirror in this case. For the manner in which the Americans pointed to mixed bathing as evidence of Japanese lewdness and wantonness was strikingly similar to John Manjiro’s response, only a few years earlier, to the shocking spectacle of American men and women kissing in public.”
*The Japanese government was forced to ban mixed bathing to appear more European.
> [Out-of-control daughters] would be bought back, lesson learned and still illegible for marriage.
“Illegible” for marriage? So they were unreadable, huh?
The Japanese are all unreadable! But you are eligible for a copy editor position!