Who are musume, or How Russian sailors rented Japanese wives
Categories: Asia | History | SocietyBy Pictolic https://pictolic.com/en/article/who-are-musume-or-how-russian-sailors-rented-japanese-wives
Japan has been a closed country for many centuries. Sailors, merchants and diplomats were the first to get to know her. First it was the Portuguese, and later the British and Russians. But not everywhere overseas guests were welcome — most often they were allowed to anchor in the port of Nagasaki. It was he who became the main sea gate of the Land of the Rising Sun. Foreigners here could find everything the same as at home: booze, gambling and brothels, and even temporary musume wives.
There were especially many Russian sailors and merchants in Nagasaki. In the 19th century, even the "Russian" suburb of Inasamura appeared. In 1870, 500 sailors from the Askold frigate, which was wrecked off the Japanese coast, lived there. The Japanese treated the unwitting guests very well and even allowed them to open a drinking establishment called "Kronstadt".
In Inasamura, in addition to sailors, merchants, port employees and customs officers lived. Several ships were constantly stationed in Nagasaki Bay, replenishing supplies or performing repairs. Russian russians are not at all surprising that in a place where there were so many Russian men and there were no Russian women at all, the first international families began to appear.
However, these families were temporary — the marriage was concluded for a while while the sailor was on Japanese soil. The women who brightened up the loneliness of the guests and portrayed loving wives were called musume. The cohabitation of a foreigner with a Japanese woman was, although temporary, but quite legal. The spouse received a submissive and caring wife for the duration of the contract, and she received a solid monetary allowance. The Musume Institute existed until the outbreak of the Russian-Japanese War in 1904.
Being the temporary wife of a foreign guest was prestigious and profitable. Therefore, in the villages and quarters where sailors and merchants lived, there were always a lot of local women. Some of them were engaged in prostitution, and some were looking for a temporary husband, hoping for a longer and more profitable relationship. Marriage contracts were concluded with local lawyers for different terms. It was possible to get a wife both for a month and until the end of the port parking.
Musume were strikingly different from geisha, who were brought up from childhood as an ornament of male society. Geisha played musical instruments, sang, danced, wrote poetry and could support any conversation. Only wealthy Japanese could afford their company. Musume were mostly girls from poor families, often from rural areas. They came to the port city just to make ends meet or to help the family.
The Japanese wife was quite inexpensive, about 40-50 yen a month. Even a small clerk of a port office could afford to pay this amount. For another 20 yen, you could rent a small detached house in Inasamura and enjoy a short, but almost real family life.
The Japanese wife performed all the functions of a real spouse. She cooked food, cleaned her dress, cleaned the house, did shopping, entertained her husband with conversations and, of course, shared a bed with him. The Japanese liked the Russians, because they were not bound by Christian morality. Musume were easy to communicate, cheerful and, importantly, relaxed in bed. At the same time, it was believed that cheating on her husband with someone else's musume was a serious offense. In such cases, the girls had the right to terminate the contract.
Women easily converged with temporary husbands and also easily parted, moving on to others. However, there were exceptions — sometimes in such a "commercial family" true love flared up. There were even dramas with despair and suicides. But this was the exception rather than the rule.
Musume tried their best to earn as much money as possible, become financially independent and find a spouse among compatriots. At the same time, the past did not burden either the woman herself or her official husband at all. The Russian guests were also pleased. Such relations were even encouraged by the naval authorities. It was believed that it was better for a sailor to live with musume than to drink in a tavern and get involved in all sorts of alterations.
Relationships with temporary wives seemed frivolous, but in fact everything was very serious. Many aristocrats and even members of the royal family had musume. For example, Grand Duke Alexander Mikhailovich, grandson of Emperor Nicholas I, lived in Nagasaki with Musume for some time. He described his marriage to a Japanese woman in detail in his memoirs.
The prince recalled that he and Musume had established a respectful relationship even before the conclusion of the contract. The choice of a temporary spouse took place at a viewing with the participation of several dozen applicants. However, Alexander Mikhailovich admitted that Japanese women with the same bleached faces and traditional hairstyles seemed to him the same. Therefore, he chose a kimono for himself, which he liked the most.
The girl caught the Prince nimble. In a short time, she managed to shake out a lot of money and a whole bunch of expensive presents from an overseas aristocrat. But the grandson of the emperor did not feel particularly constrained in funds, so he spoiled his musume as best he could. In his notes, he spoke very well about his Japanese wife and wrote that he had never been disappointed in her.
The eldest son of the great Russian chemist Dmitry Mendeleev, midshipman Vladimir Mendeleev, also signed a marriage contract with a Japanese woman. In 1892, he signed a contract with a musume named Taka Hidesima. Such a wonderful relationship has developed between a Russian sailor and a Japanese woman that they even have a child. After returning home, Vladimir Dmitrievich sent money to his Japanese family every month.
Mendeleev kept a photograph in his desk drawer all his life, in which his wife held her little daughter Fuji in her arms. But to see with He didn't manage to be such a daughter anymore. According to some reports, they died during the strong earthquake of 1923, which literally leveled Nagasaki to the ground.
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