5. Japanese Bodies and Western Ways of Seeing in the Late Nineteenth Century
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149 five Japanese Bodies and Western Ways of Seeing in the Late Nineteenth Century Satsuki Kawano ‘‘A fat man with only his loin cloth on stood in the center of the street fanning himself,’’ wrote an American businessman and writer, Francis Hall, in his journal about a scene he observed while riding through rural Yokohama on August 7, 1860 (1992: 209). Hall repeatedly noted that he saw laborers working in fields in their loincloths, children in a state of complete undress (1992: 154), and women dropping their garments to their hips to nurse or cool down (1992: 210). Furthermore, it was not uncommon for men and women to bathe together at a public bathhouse. Artist William Heine, who came to the U.S. from Dresden and joined Commodore Perry’s expedition to Japan in 1853, described a bathing scene in rural Shimoda: ‘‘Old and young, men and women, boys and girls: they scramble about together in a remarkable medley as naked as frogs’’ (1990: 133). Japanese ideas of undress (hadaka) revolved around the varying degrees of exposure of skin. The body in the state of maru hadaka is completely exposed, without a shred of clothing, while the state of hadanugi refers to a form of partial undress revealing the upper portion of the body. While people distinguished among the different forms of undress, partial or complete undress was Dirt, Undress, and Difference 150 culturally and morally acceptable (except for the upper class) in a range of social contexts. Clothes were used on special occasions. Not only garments, but also tattoos for male laborers1 and tooth-painting for married women were proper forms of bodily adornment. Beyond following these rules of dress, it was equally important to undress in a proper context. And laborers working in loincloths during the hottest months of the year, or bathers in complete undress at a public bathhouse, maintained their social appearances appropriately . Furthermore, people were trained to see, but not stare at, undressed bodies in these public situations. Thus, making the undressed body socially appropriate depended not only on practices of bodily adornment, but also on people’s cultivation of different rules of seeing. Yet Western visitors found frequent bodily exposure in Japan and Japanese people’s undressed bodies disturbing. In the West, nakedness has been negatively judged as a culturally and morally inappropriate state of undress (Clark [1956] 1972; see also Bastian, this volume). If nakedness is a culturally lower form of undress, nudity is its higher counterpart; it is even an appropriate target for aesthetic inquiries. Using their culturally and historically specific understandings of undress, many Western observers judged the Japanese people by Western standards of propriety and found them naked. To align Japanese practices of undress with Western standards of modesty and civility, Japanese leaders and officials came to take legal measures to regulate undress in public. Specifically, the Misdemeanor Law (ishiki kaii jōrei) was established in 1872 in the capital of Tokyo, and the state imposed the law on regional governments in 1873. As a result, some forms of undress became illegal and subject to fines. In urban, public spaces, commoners could no longer remain undressed or partly dressed (e.g., in loincloths or waistcloths). The law also banned the common practice of men and women bathing together at public bathhouses. Thus, the state’s legal measures prohibited women from appearing in partial or full undress in public. As a result of the state’s intervention, ordinary people’s bodies became the objects of intense sartorial surveillance as new rules for displaying bodies, in and out of clothing, came into effect. The state’s regulation of undress in 1873 was certainly not an isolated disciplinary practice, but rather belongs to a set of interrelated, systematic, and institutionalized modes of controlling people’s bodies. In 1872, for example, the state adopted Western-style tailcoats and frock coats as the ceremonial dress for the upper class (Miyamoto 2004). Western-style dress was also introduced to the military, government offices, schools, and factories. As Imanishi (1997) has suggested, through newly instituted compulsory schooling, general drafting, and the imposition of public health practices, early Meiji Japan witnessed the state’s attempt to make ‘‘docile’’ bodies (Foucault [1977] 1979) out of the nation’s subjects. At first glance, the state’s imposition of dress looks like a simple old story of Westernization, and, as a number of scholars have shown (e.g., Imanishi Japanese Bodies and Western Ways of Seeing in...


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