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Friday, January 13, 2017

The Responsibilities Of A Female Servant In Japan

Are you a female servant in the late 17th century Japan? Then this is the book for you!

Onna shoreishu (Collection of Rules of Etiquette for Women)

Never again will you wonder just what the fug you are supposed to do when the Lady of the House tells you to get her tea, while the Head Maid tells you to go and buy some rice - but not which rice from which dealer, while the Head of the household tries to put his hand up your kimono (good luck with that) while he tells you not tell his wife.

Read Onna shoreishu and you’ll never be unemployed again in 1688 AD Japan!

“I read it, and now I am fugged in many ways, including my butt. But that’s okay, because I can now get a better job with the local brothel.”
Suzuki-san, 17,

“Now I know what type of rice to buy after I first give the lady her tea to keep her occupied before going out of my way to her ladyship’s husband. Everybody wins.”
Suzuki-san, 17 (not the same girl). 

Just kidding, of course.

Here’s what Mr. Jonathan A. Hill. of New York ( had to write about the book he has for sale for a mere US$5,500: 

Numerous full-page woodcuts. Seven parts in six vols. Large 8vo, orig. blue
wrappers (rubbed & a little worn), orig. title slips on upper covers, modern
stitching. N.p.: 1688.
Fourth edition (1st ed.: 1660); all early editions are very rare. Copies which appear on the market are usually incomplete and in bad condition; our set is in fine condition.
This was the standard book of the 17th century on the role and responsibilities of female servants in upper-class society and in the household.
The anonymous author wrote this work to instruct these women servants in matters of highly refined etiquette required in royal, aristocratic, and wealthy households. Topics include proper attire, how to assist at festivals and weddings, how to treat the belongings of the servants’ mistresses, how to care for and teach etiquette to children, travel customs, etc. This work offers an intimate and rather unique view of customs and conduct within upper-class households.
There are instructions on correct eating decorum; suggestions for seasonal attire, courtship and wedding rituals, wedding receptions, menus for weddings and other celebrations, transporting the dowery, how to prepare the room for delivering a baby, celebrations relating to the milestones in a child’s life, etc.
The fine illustrations have sometimes been attributed to Hishikawa Moronobu but there is no convincing proof, save the style, which is reminiscent of his work.
A fine set, with some mostly marginal and unimportant worming.
WorldCat locates no copy of this edition.

Well done, Mr. Hill.

We are talking about a book from 1688... Japan still hadn't heard of the Gutenberg printing press, and Japanese books of this era were done one page at a time...seems to me, if you are also a fan of Japanese ukiyo-e (woodblock prints), you could hardly go wrong here.

In the image above, I darkened it so you could see it clearer. Because drawings are on both sides, the reverse image is bleeding through with ghostly outlines.

I have a few 1800s comic books/story books from Japan relating the Tale of Genji that have the same issue... and really... how many books do you have from the 1600s?

Andrew Joseph
PS: Thanks Vinnie!

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