Monday, February 6, 2012

Japanese Letters: The Polynesian. Honolulu: July 21, 1860

Japanese Letters.
The Polynesian. Honolulu: July 21, 1860.

Some traducer of the Institutions of his country has supplied information to the Japanese embassy at Washington, from which the following dispatch has been composed. The President has complained of the publication of the dispatch as a violation of diplomatic etiquette and privilege, and the subject has been referred to the Covode Committee. In the meantime, a Southern Member of Congress has notified Fudgee Nokami, the Chief Commissioner, that if he intends any reference to the ladies of the South, he will blow the top of his head off in a minute. –Am. Exchange.

Most Esteemed Hakodadi: We have been invited to visit, next in order, the great city of Philadelphia, or “the place consecrated to fraternal affection,” the capitol of the province which is the birthplace of the American Tycoon. Our reception, we are informed, will be attended with the most august ceremonies that the city ever offers to its most distinguished guests. The Councilmen, after examining our credentials, have decided to place us on a footing with “the most favored” foreign Fire Companies.

The details of our reception by the American Tycoon you have in my former letter. He is called, not Tycoon, but “President,” sometimes, however, by a strange analogy of language, “old coon.” I at first this an attempt to pronounce our Japanese phrase, but am assured that it is strictly idiomatic, and implies astuteness and age. It certainly seemed applicable to the head of the nation who received us.

We find it very difficult to comply with the demands of our sovereign, forbidding us to touch the women of this country. Not from any disposition on our part to disobey, but from their desire to seize our hands. They are apparently allowed here the greatest of freedom, but it is only in appearance. Every woman, married or single, is fastened in a cage of bamboo or flexible steel, extending from the waist to the feet. This seems to be so arranged as to give them no uneasiness, but they are very much ashamed of it, and conceal it under so many coverings that it renders their appearance quite ludicrous. They are unrestricted as to the upper parts of their persons, which they are permitted to expose as much as they wish. This they seem to avail themselves of, and on all occasions of high ceremony wear very low dresses. As in all barbarous nations, they slit their ears, and suspend from them ornaments of gold and silver. They also paint and powder themselves, and after greasing their hair, twist it into fantastic shapes, and fasten it up with long pins and combs.

Some of them would be fine looking if they did not disfigure themselves by the hideous and vulgar custom of wearing eyebrows, and keeping their teeth white. Be assured, therefore, that we are in no danger of being captivated by their appearance; we feel nothing but regret that the barbarous and absurd customs of man should thus destroy the charms which cultivation and refinement would so much improve.

Nothing strikes us so much as the want of respect these barbarians show even to their highest dignitaries; they never hesitate to spit before them, and it requires considerable activity to prevent being spat upon at times. The custom of wearing one sword, it seems, originated from this cause, as it enables you to avoid with greater facility the saliva of your neighbor. Chewing tobacco is much prized, it seems, from the saliva it produces, which is preserved, if possible, in handsome vases of porcelain, and placed in prominent positions.

None of the inhabitants do reverence by crawling on their bellies, except after the election of a new Tycoon, when those in search of office come to the central city and perform that ceremony. Those who are fortunate enough to meet with honor from the Tycoon, seldom walk upright during their whole term in office. The unfortunate applicants become at once censors or spies upon their others, and their silence has to be bought at a high price. All public servants have their price, which rises or falls according to the necessities of the Tycoon. But I shall reserve my reflections on political topics till I have another opportunity to address you. Until then rest in peace.