Here at the frontier, the leaves fall like rain. Although my neighbors are all barbarians, and you, you are a thousand miles away, there are still two cups at my table.

Ten thousand flowers in spring, the moon in autumn, a cool breeze in summer, snow in winter. If your mind isn't clouded by unnecessary things, this is the best season of your life.

~ Wu-men ~

Tuesday, September 20, 2022

Early 20th Centuy Teahouse Girls in Japan

Below is an excerpt from the Japanese History and Culture blog, regarding early 20th century hotels and tea house girls in Japan. The full post  may be read here.

Pre-war Japanese society and social classes were very different to today.  A distinct class of domestics that were filled predominately with women were in the service industry such as hotels, tea-houses, and restaurants.  Here the hours of labour were very long, from four or five in the morning till midnight, or later.  Rarely do these girls get five hours of rest, frequently there are not more than three hours.  They must open all the amado (sliding wooden shutters which protect the paper “windows”), and get the general cleaning done before the first guest rise, and must continue their service until late into the night, answering the calls of the guests, till the last one has retired.  In addition to the usual cleaning of the rooms, which is really not much of an undertaking, these girls carry all the meals of all the guests from the kitchen on the ground floor to their rooms on the second or third floors, serve them while they eat, and carry away the trays when the meal is completed.  In preparation for the night the girls bring out the heavy futon (quilts) and make the “beds” on the floor and in the morning remove, fold, and lay them all away in closets. The workload in a traditional Japanese hotel is relatively heavy due to the number of guests, but that which is most taxing are the long hours of service and the insufficient time for rest.  As in the poorer homes of Japan reflect the same conditions of the poorer and smaller hotels, the girls have no private rooms, but sleep in entryways and reception-rooms.  Of course they have neither time nor opportunity for personal culture, nor even for recreation and from the nature of their occupation, is it strange if they sometimes yield to the solicitations of guests?

These girls are of course neither professional prostitutes nor geisha. Yet, assured by a provincial chief of police, some years ago when making investigations, that, in the eyes of the police, three fourths or four fifths of the girls in hotels and tea-houses are virtually prostitutes, though of course they have no licenses and are subject to no medical inspection.  Occasionally they are arrested for illegal prostitution, at the instance however of brothel keepers.  Hotels and tea-houses take pains to secure pretty girls for servants, in order to make their service attractive.  It is a dreadful statement to make, but, if I am justified in judging from such facts as have come to my knowledge, it would appear that few traveling men in Japan feel any special hesitation in taking advantage, with financial compensation of course, of such opportunities as are afforded them.  Hotels give the girls their food, perhaps two kimonos yearly, and generally a small payment in cash, but their principal earnings come from tips.  This makes them attentive to the wants of the guests.

There are many first-class hotels throughout the country, but chiefly in the principal cities, to which geisha are not admitted, but in those hotels to which they are admitted the green country girls soon learn from them the brazen ways and licentious talk that are evidently pleasing to many of the guests.  All in all, the life and lot of the hotel and tea-house girl are deplorable indeed.  She does differ from the geisha and licensed prostitute, however, in that she can leave her place and retire to her country home at any time, being held by no contract or debt.  Hotel and tea-house girls are recruited largely from the families of artisans and small tradespeople, living in interior towns and villages, they do not often come from farming families, since they would lack the regular features and light complexion desired by hotels. Their family pedigree explains in part this easy virtue. They are saved from more disaster than they actually meet, because geisha and prostitutes abound and are more attractive.

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