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Salomon de Rothschild Tours America (1861)

The Gentlemen From Japan

New York, June 18, '60.

...Last Monday the Japanese made their triumphal entry into New York. According to the newspapers, such a spectacle will never again be presented to human eyes. The reception of Queen Victoria in Paris and the coronation of Emperor Alexander in Moscow were nothing compared to the American magnificence.

All the windows of houses on the parade route had been rented in advance at exorbitant prices. All stores and public buildings were closed for this national celebration. Even the Stock Exchange was to be idle. The city of New York, with its pretensions of being a metropolis and its feeble claim of being the real capital of the United States, wanted to distinguish itself.

First of all, a police order enjoined the public to behave decorously. At Baltimore the poor Orientals had been robbed. At Philadelphia people shouted at them contemptuously, calling them beggars, monkeys, etc., etc. These gentlemen don't know much English, but they know enough to understand that they weren't being complimented.

Last Saturday cannon shots announced the landing of the representatives of the Tycoon. To honor them, or rather to exhibit them to the public, they were taken on a five-hour tour of the entire city. All the troops were out, showing again how the National Guard looked before '48. There was one difference, however. Each regiment could choose its own uniform. As a result, there was a Scotch regiment, a French regiment, a Prussian regiment, and so on. The Scotchmen, the Frenchmen, and the Fifth, a native regiment, were the only ones with any semblance of military bearing, but they never managed to keep ranks despite several very comical attempts.

The procession went by before us in the following order: first came a four-wheeled cabriolet that carried one of the police chiefs. He had a gold-knobbed cane, and used this instrument to make the crowd move out of the way, and let the wheels of his carriage roll over the feet of those who didn't get back swiftly enough. Then came a squad of policemen on foot, and another squad of mounted police...who paid much more attention to their animals than to the public. Then came the troops, who kept filing by for two hours, with an occasional stop for rest. The people took advantage of this pause to sit down on the sidewalks or to get a drink at a bar. The rich militiamen had a negro at their side to hold their rifles during the moments of rest.

After a long wait, we finally got a glimpse of the principal actors in this grotesque exhibition. The city had really done things in grand style. Each distinguished Japanese had his own carriage. The three ambassadors were each accompanied by a naval officer and rode in four-horse vehicles adorned with the Japanese colors. The coachmen wore round hats, frock coats, waistcoats, trousers ad libitum; but to compensate for this, they each wore a magnificent pair of dark canary yellow gloves. It must be admitted that the carriages were a bit old and the coachmen's dress was not beyond reproach.

After the three ambassadors came the box containing the treaty and two high functionaries entrusted with its care; they were not supposed to let it out of their sight for any reason whatsoever. In other cities less opulent than New York, a sufficiently spacious vehicle could not be found to hold the precious box. An omnibus had therefore been chosen, and the case and its guardians were perched on top.

This time there had been constructed a special type of carriage, all covered with colored paper and with Japanese-American streamers. If it had had a large box, it would have made a very presentable traveling theater. A young Japanese boy whom people here call Tommy was sitting triumphantly on the case and making faces at the men who were throwing kisses to the ladies.

Then came the other foreigners of inferior rank, each accompanied by an alderman or a common councilman. (I call them the "common men of the council"). These gentlemen looked a lot like the coachmen who drove their vehicles, the only difference being that they had on their Sunday suits, magnificent grey hats, and the same dark canary yellow gloves of which mention was made above. But inwardly they seemed irritated and ill at ease, though their sufferings seemed compensated for by the effect which they thought they were producing on the crowds round about them. The rest of the militia brought up the rear of the procession.

The Japanese are very ugly---They are shriveled like baked apples and are often heavily pock-marked. Their hair is shaved to a point from the forehead to the crown...Their hands are white, small, and very aristocratic, and their fingernails would make the prettiest Parisienne jealous.

They make enormous purchases here, but always buy objects of very little value, for which they haggle excessively. Several shopkeepers offered them as presents the articles which they admired most. They accepted without the slightest shame, taking advantage of their privileged position as barbarians to ignore the laws of reciprocity. they have no taste for the arts and prefer a child's toy or a clock worth fifteen francs to a well-wrought piece of silverware...

Every day there are celebrations given in their honor. Monday there is the great ball given by the city, and Tuesday Mrs. Belmont is receiving them...