Madame Chrysanthème, by Pierre Loti

Chapter 39

A Lady of Japan

My little Chrysanthème is always attired in dark colors, a sign here of aristocratic distinction. While her friends Oyouki-San, Madame Touki, and others, delight in gay-striped stuffs, and thrust gorgeous ornaments in their chignons, she always wears navy-blue or neutral gray, fastened round her waist with great black sashes brocaded in tender shades, and she puts nothing in her hair but amber-colored tortoiseshell pins. If she were of noble descent she would wear embroidered on her dress in the middle of the back a little white circle looking like a postmark with some design in the centre of it — usually the leaf of a tree; and this would be her coat-of-arms. There is really nothing wanting but this little heraldic blazon on the back to give her the appearance of a lady of the highest rank.

In Japan the smart dresses of bright colors shaded in clouds, embroidered with monsters of gold or silver, are reserved by the great ladies for home use on state occasions; or else they are used on the stage for dancers and courtesans.

Like all Japanese women, Chrysanthème carries a quantity of things in her long sleeves, in which pockets are cunningly hidden. There she keeps letters, various notes written on delicate sheets of rice-paper, prayer amulets drawn up by the bonzes; and above all a number of squares of a silky paper which she puts to the most unexpected uses — to dry a teacup, to hold the damp stalk of a flower, or to blow her quaint little nose, when the necessity presents itself. After the operation she at once crumples up the piece of paper, rolls it into a ball, and throws it out of the window with disgust.

The very smartest people in Japan blow their noses in this manner.

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Last updated Friday, March 7, 2014 at 22:36