My inner life, fueled by my imagination, is so real and engaging that were it not for my fascination with the world around me, I could easily live out my life as a hermit, immersed in the pages of old books and manuscripts. Sketches of Japanese Manners and Customs is one such book. Written by J.M.W. Silver, Lieutenant Royal Marines, Light Infantry, and published in 1867 by Day and Son, Limited, Lithographers and Publishers, London, Sketches is a first-hand account of Japan in the days of the Mikado as seen through the eyes of an English officer; a skilled observer whose military objectivity was tempered by his obvious fascination with what he saw. The book is filled with exquisite chromo-lithographs that are “fac-similes of native drawings” reminiscent of the Ukiyo-e woodblock prints of Hiroshige. It is, for me, mental aphrodisia.
Below are a few of the plates, along with excerpts from the text to explain them.
Some of the tea houses in the vicinity of large towns are much frequented in the spring-time by large parties, on account of the beauty of their gardens. The chromo-lithograph opposite represents one of these parties, some of whom appear to have been indulging too freely in saki.* The fellow dancing and waving a fan about is apparently addressing a love-song to the lady opposite, whose husband is evidently desirous of putting a stop to the flirtation.
The baker’s shop opposite affords a good specimen of the wayside scenes, and conveys a fair idea of an ordinary Japanese house. It will be noticed that the puppies in the foreground, as well as the cat in the girl’s arms, are very differently delineated; but such animals are the especial stumbling-blocks of the native artists, although they faithfully represent birds, fishes, and reptiles.
Some bath-houses have the women’s lavatory separate; and one of these is the subject of the illustration. This arrangement, however, is more for convenience than in compliance with the demands of modesty as is evidenced by the fact that a male attendant is supplying water; and that his presence is plainly a matter of perfect indifference to the women bathing, with their children, in his immediate vicinity.
A high resolution scan of the entire book is available for download here.