Japan As They Saw It

Curiosity and alarm

    [T]he dinner, which has been ordered, has arrived. Spread out upon the floor in lacquered bowls, it occupies the greater portion of the room. It has been quickly and deftly arranged by a train of neatly dressed maidens, who now seat themselves round it and invite us to partake. We have long since taken off our shoes, and now squat in a circle on the floor, and gaze with curiosity, not unmixed with alarm, at the display before us. There is raw fish thinly sliced, and salted ginger; there are prawns piled up with a substance which in taste and appearance very much resembles toffy; there are pickled eggs and rock leeches, and pieces of gristle belonging to animals unknown, to be eaten with soy; and yams and pears, and various sorts of fruits and vegetables prepared, some of them palatably enough; but still the experiment is hazardous, and we are relieved at the sight of a bowl of rice as a safe piece de resistance.
    The ministering spirits seem to delight in pressing upon us the nastiest things, apparently for the amusement which our wry faces affords them.

Laurence Oliphant, Narrative of the Earl of Elgin’s Mission to China and Japan in the Years 1857, ’58, ’59, 1859

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