Six months after the Japanese ambassadorial delegation arrived in Honolulu the Pacific Commercial Advertiser featured further news of their travels in the United States. ‘The Japanese at Washington: Incidents of Their Visit’ was featured in the August 2, 1860 edition of the paper.
The following is a transcript of the eighth section of the news story, focusing on the habits of the Japanese as observed by Americans. No author is listed, so I am at this point assuming that the text was taken from various newspaper sources that managed through the mails to reach Honolulu.
THEIR HABITS –Their baggage fills the concert halls at Willard’s Hotel, and presents a strange appearance. Each quaint-looking package and box is marked in their peculiar characters, nor can anything be removed by its owner without a written order to the custodian. This is but a specimen of the perfect order and system with which their movements are regulated. One each door of the rooms which they occupy is a bit of paper, inscribed with the name of the occupant, and the servants of the party perform their duties in accordance with written orders issued every morning.
Each of the twenty officials of the party wears a sword; most of them two swords. These are short, straight, and thrust through their girdles on the left side, nearly horizontally. There is no guard to the hilt, which is of metal inlaid with gold or silver in figures, or of shagreen. The scabbards are of wood, lacquered. They go bareheaded, but hats hang in several rooms, huge straw affairs, some of them waxed on the upper portions, and made to be tied on the head by a harness-like arrangement, which comes beneath the nose, around the ears, and under the chin.
They eat four times a day, rice being their principal dish with boiled chicken, ham, hard boiled eggs, and vegetables of every description. Tea is their constant beverage, although they betray a liking for the champagne so abundantly provided by the naval officers with them, and several have been initiated into the “fancy drinks” of the bar room. It is to be desired that this had been avoided. The officials use the sumptuous beds in their apartments, but the servants sleep on piles of blankets on the floor, a substitute for their thick sleeping mats.
Their pipes are wooden stems with metallic mouthpieces and tiny bowls, not much larger than an inverted thimble. They carry them in grass cloth pouches, to which are attached their tobacco bags, containing what smoking Americans term vile snuff, resembling the Persian tobacco sold in the bazaars of Constantinople. About three wiffs empties the bowl, which has to be frequently replenished. They are very cleanly, more so, Mr. Willard says, than the same number of our people would be. Each and every one bathes daily, and spittoons are not needed in their room. The only habit they have not pleasing to us, is the substitution of small pieces of silk paper for pocket handkerchiefs. A supply of this paper is carried in their vests, or rather in the many folds of their under garments.
Visitors and others at Willard’s Hotel state that the Japanese are always ready for a trade. They have with them an immense assortment of bijouterie of Japanese invention and manufacture –fans, purses, pictures, tobacco pouches, &c. –which they gladly exchange for trifles of American art and handicraft. They are on very good terms with the lady boarders at Willard’s, and evidently enjoy their society. One of the Ambassadors has already signified his intention to procure a full and complete ladies’ costume to carry back. So we may expect to learn that the almond eyed belles of Yeddo have adopted a more expansive style of attire. It is very obvious that some of the subordinates are rapidly acquiring the “fast” habits of Young America, and not much to the credit of those who entourage these vicious tastes. Much doubt begins to the entertained whether any practical good will result from this mission.
(Next: A Japanese in a Barber Shop)