Servants let a man contact her mistress, or a man was notified a suitable girl through an intermediary. If interested, he sent her a thirty-one syllable poem (waka) to symbolize the occasion. The girl would then write a reply which the gentleman examined with utmost care, even down to the way she folded the letter; calligraphy and poetic skill were an infallible signs of a woman's innate charm and overall desirability.
On the first available night, the new
lovers would meet. By now the girl's father and her family knew
what was going on. This pre-nuptial lovemaking was often
encouraged before the relationship became official so that
marriage might not be entered into haste. After staying all
night, the man left at the first sign of dawn.
Immediately upon returning home, he composed a 'next morning' letter. As a rule, the Heian woman then composed her response letter, recounting the time they spent together and the long hours she had to endure before she was in his arms once more, beneath him.
The following night a second 'secret' visit was arranged. More letters are exchanged; messengers are kept busy.
Finally, on the third and final night, small rice cakes called 'third-night cakes' are placed by the girl's family in her room.
When the couple accepts these cakes and eats them the marriage bond takes on more of a religious significance. Accompanying the cakes is a formal letter from the girl's father giving his approval to the union. The following day, no longer forced to leave once the cock crows, the man and woman feast together with their family and friends. The marriage is now both public and official.
The messanger of a love letter was a servant of the couple (Heian)
Niou-no-miya visits Uji, his wife and plays the lute (Heian)
A servant of a courtesan brings a love letter (Edo)
Courtesan reading a love letter (Edo)
Back to "Love Affair"