Monday, 19 October 2015

Treaty between Japan and Corea 1876

This is an extract from the House of Lords parliamentary paper about the Treaty between Japan and Corea.
“Having heard that Mr. Miyamoto of the Guaimusho, had returned from Corea with the Envoys, we called upon him.  As it is not within the sphere of his duty to give any information upon purely official matters, we did not seek for this.  But the following observations made by him upon the state of the country and the habits and customs of the people, may prove interesting to our readers, and we therefore publish them.”
Some examples of the observations are; the soil is very poor as the pine trees are “crooked and ugly”, or the houses of the common people are about ten to twelve feet square and are “little better than dog kennels.”  The walls are made of stone and earth and the roofs are made of rice-straw thatch.  People sit on oiled paper on top of the compact earth floors, and they sit with straight legs.  The clothing is described “When approaching the land and at some distance the Coreans present the pretty appearance of snow herons, but on closer inspection they resemble the lazy priests of our own temples, whose garments may once have been white, but are so no longer.”
However, it was the last paragraph of the observations that caught my attention.
“We saw no wine-ships, “geisha” (singing girls), or the like.  It is said that all natural sons become priests, and the daughters prostitutes; but we could not discover whether this was actually the case.  We saw some Japanese hair-oil which they said were used by the women.  The custom of excluding women from the public gaze seems to exist in Corea as in China, and it is said that even among themselves visitors are not permitted to see the wife.  Thus we can give no description of the Corean Women.  Men do not use oil for the hair, which they pin up themselves.  We saw no public baths of hair-dressing shops, and we heard that the Coreans do not bathe.  In the warmer days of summer they go to the river or seashore to wash themselves; and in the hotel where we stayed there was not such a thing as a bath...This accounts for the filthy state in which the Coreans keep their persons, and for the dirty hue of their once white clothes.”
All this and a lot more can be found in the House of Lords parliamentary papers session 1876 vol. XX.

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