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What would be the ultimate luxury in personal service for a highborn aristocrat? Someone to draw your bath? Peel your grapes? Fan you with palm fronds? How about a servant whose job it is to take the blame for your farts.

The Edo period, which lasted from 1603 to 1868, was a major turning point in the history of Japan. After several consecutive centuries of bloody civil war, Japan finally had a steady central government. Freed from worrying about things like samurai from clans on the other side of the nearest mountain range violently overrunning their villages, the Japanese people could turn their energies to more cultured endeavors, such as avant-garde fashions, new artistic movements, and figuring out how to make it seem like they never passed gas.

Thus was born the profession of heoibikuni. A heoibikuni was a woman who worked as a servant to young ladies of noble standing such as the daughters of high-ranking warlords or magistrates. Accompanying her mistress on excursions and when receiving guests, ordinarily the heoibikuni assumed the duties of a lady-in-waiting or chaperone.

But even the most noble of women farts, and those intestinal zephyrs were the heoibikuni’s true call of duty. When her mistress’ backside let out an audible hiss, peep, or blast, it was the heoibikuni’s job to verbally proclaim to all who smelled it that in fact she, and not her employer, had dealt it.

It’s doubtful that anyone believed this conveniently timed confession, but no one wants to get into a debate over the veracity of an “I just farted!” claim, and by taking the blame the heoibikuni allowed her mistress to save face. Some say that the heoibikuni’s unique services were especially prized during matchmaking sessions, as very few people want “gassy” to be the first impression they make on a potential spouse.

“Hello. My name is <pffffbbtt>. It’s a pleasure to make your acquaintance.”
“Likewise, Lady Pffffbbtt.”

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Useful as heoibikuni sound, it seems that were only employed by women, perhaps because Japan has long found male flatulence hilarious.

Sources: Livedoor News via Hachima Kiko, Naver Matome
Top image: Daily News Agency
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