When California was closer to Japan than New York

sushi craze

This article is a bit long but it’s one fascinating look at the trade relationship between the US and Japan in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

Some interesting parts:

California was closer to Japan than it was to New York:

“California was the only state mentioned in the letter (Oregon still being a territory) because California miners were still strapped for food and supplies. And eighteen days from Japan to San Francisco was better than the one-hundred-and-twenty days from New York to San Francisco.”

Notable exports from the US to Japan:

  • brass band music, apple pie, baseball, Christianity

Notable people influenced by Japanese culture and art … and おめてなし! (omotenashi means, basically, hospitality)

  • Monet, Van Gogh, Frank Lloyd Wright (architect), Ulysses S. Grant (former president)

Wrote Grant:

“My visit to Japan has been the most pleasant of all my travels. The country is beautifully cultivated, the scenery is grand, and the people, from the highest to the lowest, the most kindly & the most cleanly in the world. My reception and entertainment has been the most extravagant I have ever known, or even read, of.”

Eating raw fish was something visitors to Japan knew about but found that they were too “sentimental” for:

“After the shimadai we had a series called sashimi. This was composed of four dishes, and would have been the crowning glory of the feast if we had not failed in courage. But one of the features of the sashimi was that live fish should be brought in, sliced while alive, and served. We were not brave enough for that, and so content ourselves with looking at the fish leap about in decorated basins and seeing them carried away, no doubt to be sliced for less sentimental feeders behind the screens.”

In the article you’ll also briefly meet Hachiro Onuki, who appears to be one of the first (maybe even the first) Japanese people to open a restaurant in the US, and you’ll read about an early NYC Japanese restaurant.

The article is the first of a two parts. Can’t wait for the next!


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