from beneath curtains

Also hidden from the gaze of men and the general public were the women themselves. If we were to peep inside the confines of her residence, we would see that women of classical Japan resembled Nô masks: her hair was parted down the middle and her hair was probably longer than her height (although she may have been little more than four feet high). Her face was powdered white; her lips were painted red with rouge; her teeth were blackened (ohaguro); and her eyebrows were plucked entirely out and replaced by charcoal ovals placed an inch or two above the original eyebrows, producing faces that looked like Nô masks of young women. With sight prohibited, women had to resort to subtle oblique ways to impart their taste, breeding, intelligence, education, and so on, since men and women could not see each other during courtship. Faith had to be placed on senses other than those available through face-to-face interactions. Women seated behind curtains could intimate their taste by letting the color combinations of their sleeves peek out from beneath curtains so men could admire their skill in blending shades of color for their costume. Or visually unavailable women could call upon the olfactory senses to indicate skill and taste by wearing robes scented by incense. Women of the upper classes blended incense themselves and scented robes by burning incense in close quarters to impart fragrance to color-coordinated robes.

Female Waka Poets: Love poetry in the Kokinshû
Yumiko Hulvey



  1. these intimations of self are both so sad and so poignant. nothing could be taken for granted, could it? what have we gained in the avalanche of possibility in today's world, and what have we lost in the onslaught of our own gluttony?


  2. erin, this is a question i have asked myself as well, so many times. what we gained - i think it is easier to answer this, the freedom to dwell in this 'avalanche of possibility' as you so wonderfully put it, is the most precious gain, to me. but we lost... the taste for the subtle and the ability to find revelation in the hidden and the mysterious, the ability to live poetically in each gift that the world offers to all our senses... perhaps...

    thank you for being here, and for showing us in your blogs that not everything has been lost.