A Family Group

A Family Group by Mortimer Menpes. 1901. Watercolor. Source: Japan: A Record in Colour, facing p. 100. Family life was another feature of Japanese culture that attracted Menpes. An account of the care and money lavished on baby clothes is followed by some more general remarks on children's costumes:

no price can be too great, no colouring too gorgeous, for the dresses of these little butterflies, the children of Japan. The poorest mother will scrape together sufficient money, and the father sacrifice one half of his daily portion of rice, in order that a child may attend a festival in the bright hues befitting its age. The younger the child, the more brilliant is its dress. You will see a mite, a little baby girl that cannot walk or talk, clothed in silk crepe of the most brilliant colour possible — rainbow colour, almost prismatic in its brilliancy. As the child grows older the colours fade, and become duller, until by the time she is a full-grown woman they have sobered down almost to Quaker hues — except here and there, where some tiny edging of colour shows itself. [140]

So the two small children here appear in brighter colours than the rest, and the two older girls have contrasting edging on their fairly plain kimonos, while the mother herself has dressed more soberly, except for the small blue ornament in her hair. It is a touching illustration of the place of children in Japanese society as Menpes found it in the later nineteenth century, and the way they subsequently progressed to the responsibilities of maturity. Jacqueline Banerjee

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Menpes, Dorothy. Japan: A Record in Colour. London: Adam & Charles Black, 1901. Internet Archive version of a copy in the University of California Libraries. Web. 27 June 2019.

Created 27 June 2019