My Day by Eleanor Roosevelt

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TOKYO —Perhaps my readers would be interested in a description of a Japanese house. In the first place, Japanese people slip off their shoes before entering a house. A medium sized, simple house would have a lttle entry way where you would leave your shoes and step up onto the floor, usually covered with matting, of the main living room. This room is apt to have a little shrine in it. It may be Buddhist and Shinto combined and it frequently has a picture of the head of the family who has most recently died since this is part of their ancestor worship. There are usually shelves behind sliding doors. The rooms are divided by sliding screens and the windows slide open and shut, with screens over them very often. A livingroom may of couse be used at night for sleeping purposes if it is necessary to do so. Since the habit is to sleep on heavy mats on the floor, these mats are rolled up in the daytime and put on shelves. If you do not use western dress, your clothes, such as kimonos, are placed flat on the shelves.

This house we have entered will have a second room the same size as the first, divided by sliding panels from the first and usually the whole family sleeps together in one room. Each one spreads out a mat on the floor and gets out his own convering, usually quilted cotton. The Japanese are personally very clean people and they have in each house a little Japanese bath. That is a type of tub which can be filled with water and under which a charcoal fire is built to heat it until it is really very hot. You are supposed to soap yourself thoroughly and get thoroughly clean before you get into the tub which is used by all of the family, following each other according to age. In the larger houses a shower is provided, usually of cold water, where you soap yourself and wash off before getting into the hot water, of course. The kitchen in a small house has a cupboard for supplies and for dishes and pots and pans. There are usually three little charcoal burners and not many pots and pans are required. There is a broiler in case you cook fish, a frying pan because many things are fried and a boiler for rice. No meal is served without rice and green tea. In addition, there is a little passageway leading to a Japanese toilet. This is usally a sanitary toilet because in too many places they need this for manure. It is just a little sunken toilet level with the floor. There is practically no furniture needed for a Japanese house, a little stand for flowers and the little shrine are all that is necessary. You sit or squat on the floor and you might have a little low table for writing but that is certainly all you would require. A richer house might have more rooms but in essence the arrangement would be the same. There might be two baths instead of one, a little more elaborate kitchen perhaps, but the difference would not be very great. Possibly there would be some open shelves where objects d'art would be displayed or there would be on the walls some beautiful paintings and throughout the house lovely screens but that would really be the essential difference, I gather.

Winter must be very hard and just a time to be endured for all the heat these houses have is a little charcoal brazier over which they can warm themselves. The houses usually face the south so they can get the benefit of the sun. Tokyo climate is not so very different from New York.


Names and Terms Mentioned or Referenced

  • Tokyo (Japan) [ index ]

About this document

My Day by Eleanor Roosevelt, May 25, 1953

Roosevelt, Eleanor, 1884-1962
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Digital edition created by The Eleanor Roosevelt Papers Project The George Washington University 312 Academic Building 2100 Foxhall Road, NW Washington, DC 20007

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Transcription created from a photocopy of a UFS wire copy of a My Day column instance archived at the Franklin D. Roosevelt Library.