Japan As They Saw It

Little Katie of the Nectarine

    One would have no adequate notion of Japan without visiting the quarter set apart in the great cities for the slave-girls of the nation, and, with every ship that comes to port, there is a rapid trundling of the rikshas toward the famous Nectarine. Most men and many women, for reason of trade or curiosity, hunt out this strange haunt of vice. Beyond the pale of her private home, within this public den, pretty little Katie, known rather for her gentle beauty and her winsome ways than for her evil life, drew upon my tender love. She looked so sweet and innocent that one quite forgot she was a hardened little sinner, this inmate of the neat white house with green blinds, in a remote corner, catering especially to foreign trade. If the measure of sin depends on the standards of the country, then Katie must not be despised. The novice in the Orient is often “dropped down gently” by experienced friends, and I was cajoled with the notion of seeing a café chantant, and dainty Katie met me and beguiled me before I guessed my whereabouts. She was so coy and artless, this child of ill-fame, that the term seemed cruel when coupled with the little maid, who suggested a bit of gay china. Her unblushing frankness had the naïveté of innocence. She horrified us with honest talk, but she seemed to find no evil in her life. She was decidedly a child of nature, and her life was part of herself. She was only a little one, hardly sixteen, who regretted not her past, recked not of the future, and knew no shame for the present. She supplied a market demand. Let the shame rest elsewhere. She showed fondness for the white ladies who petted her, and she toddled about in rainbow robe, with gay obi, and oily topknot sprinkled with gewgaws. She cuddled down affectionately beside us, and chattered in her broken patois. She rolled out ripples of laughter, that fell like a jolly cascade, when we paid her pretty compliments.
    The matron, tawny and wrinkled but always polite, known through all the land as “Mother Jesus,” filled little glasses with a tempting drink. The newcomer grew fearful. “Is it a put-up job? Will they drug us and do us up?” But there is no trickery in well-regulated Japan. Methods and management are open as the day, as transparent as little Katie’s heart.
    There came a summons for the girls, and she toddled away, to join the troop of airy midgets who thronged for inspection. “Many are called, but few are chosen,” and Katie returned with a sunny smile. When asked how she learned her pretty English, her answer came with terrible truth, and impressed the moral nightmare of her life. “Ze gentlemen, zey teach me Engleesch.” The frank answer startled and saddened the inquisitor.

Gertrude Adams Fisher, A Woman Alone in the Heart of Japan, 1906

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