Windows into Japan 2. Last time I quoted from Bayard Taylor’s journal of travels, in which he recounted the famous arrival of Commodore Perry and his fleet to Japan, which led to the end of isolationism. During his visit, Perry was surprised to see men and women bathing together. The practice was soon to end, but Perry was not the last traveller to be shocked by the spectacle of mixed bathing in Japan. In 1863, Anna D’a’s A Lady’s Visit to Manilla and Japan was published, in which the author described the surprising sight of men and women enjoying some steaming waters together:
We were one day, by accident, witnesses to a singularly ludicrous spectacle. A man accosted us whilst we were walking down one of the principal streets, and requested to be allowed to show us a dog he knew of, or possessed, as he had heard we were on the look out for a good one. Signifying our acquiescence, we turned and followed him through numerous by-lanes and alleys, till, at last, he stopped before a small, low building, and standing aside, invited us to enter. We did so without the slightest doubt or hesitation, little prepared for the absurdly indecent scene which awaited us within, causing us to beat a hasty retreat, and beg the man to bring the dog out if he meant to show it. At the further end of the room we had so abruptly entered, was a portion partitioned off by a low wooden wall, within which enclosed space numbers of men and women were bathing in puris naturalibus. A thick vapour rose about them, and a strong sulphurous odour pervaded the place. They were dancing about as though half-mad. Whether this arose from sensations of joy or pain, I cannot say, but I know they reminded me forcibly of a representation of souls in purgatory I once saw outside a church in Antwerp.
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