Japanese Menstrual Huts
In traditional societies, menstruation was considered taboo and menstruating women were required to live in special menstrual huts where they had to wear old, tattered clothes and could eat only raw food.
In Japan in particular, this practice lived on in the district of Aichi-ken until the beginning of the 20th century. Cooked food could not be brought to the hut because it was generally believed that doing so would pollute the fire of the main house. For the same reason, women were not allowed near the well while menstruation for fear of contaminating the water in it.
Women would normally stay secluded in the menstrual huts for about 11 days, after which they would participate in a purification ritual washing themselves and cleaning their clothes. Then they would eat and drink tea either in the temple of the village or in front of their own home, together with some children of the village. This rite, called ai-bi (sharing the fire), integrated them back into society, after which they could go on with their everyday lives.
The End of Menstrual Huts
At the beginning of the 20th century, menstruating women remained subject to taboos, but they were no longer forced into menstrual huts. However, they were still required to eat leftovers in an isolated corner of the house.
Also, due to the superstitious fear that they would be polluted, all fires in the building needed to be put out and then re-lit after the meal was over. The pots and pans also needed to be thoroughly cleaned.
In Japan, purifying charms, called o-fuda, became available from Koyasan, the main temple of the Buddhist Tendai cult in Wakayama-ken by the beginning of the 20th century. The use of these made isolating women unnecessary, although they were still considered unclean.
The Joyous Onset of Menarche
Despite all these superstitious precautions and practices, the onset of menarche (the beginning of the menstrual function), called “the first blossom” in Japan, was considered a joyous occasion. It was always celebrated by eating special dishes like sekihan or rice boiled with red beans, and these celebrations continue to the present day. In Toba-shi in Mie-ken, sekihan was placed on the altar and when the several-day long ceremonies have ended, the girls were eligible to get married.
Of course, menstrual huts never fully disappeared. Their spirit lives on in the variety of ways women utilize today to hide their bleeding such as in the use of menstrual pads, tampons, sponges and cups. However, even in America, some women bleed into their clothing because of poverty or simply because they choose to for political or other reasons.