Muragaki Awaji-no-Kami was amazed at what he saw when he looked out his San Francisco hotel window on April 1, 1860.

"One never sees men in the streets carrying goods on their shoulders or on their backs. This work is all done by horses. The people drive in carriages instead of sedan chairs as we do at home," he wrote in his diary.

Muragaki was one of the 77 Japanese ambassadors who had come to the United States to establish the first Japanese embassy in this country. The Japanese had sailed on the USS Powhatan, which had been sent to Japan to pick them up.

Muragaki, whose diary was published in 1920 by the American-Japan Society, was intrigued by the brick chimneys, which he could see from his hotel.

"We were told that the tall brick chimneys ... rise from buildings in which all sorts of articles are made by the machinery driven by steam power. I noticed a large round structure at a street corner. This I was told is used to store gas, an inflammable air made from coal and now utilized for lighting purposes. Gas in this part of the world is taking the place of oil."

On April 2, Muragaki and his fellow ambassadors received visits from the English, French and Sardinian consuls. The Japanese had to decline an invitation from the California governor to visit Sacramento because they were anxious to continue their trip to Washington, D.C., via the Panama crossing.

San Francisco did itself proud in welcoming the visitors.


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At 2 p.m. April 2, carriages picked up the Japanese and took them to a banquet.

As they passed City Hall, Muragaki noted the bearskin-capped guardsmen lining the stairs. The way to the banquet hall was lined with San Franciscans striving to catch a glimpse of the foreign visitors.

There were 150 people at the banquet, which included fruits, sweets, cakes of "gigantic size," vegetables, and game and other meat.

"With the different courses glass after glass of various wines was filled," wrote Muragaki.

"Towards the end of the banquet the largest of several glasses which stood beside each plate was filled with a spirit, which they called champagne."

Then came the speeches, and Muragaki was sorry he couldn't understand them.

"At the end of his (the mayor's) speech everyone rose and gave three loud shouts at the top of their voices. It was an awkward moment for us owing to our ignorance of American customs upon such occasions."

But not wishing to offend, the Japanese also jumped up from their seats and shouted with their hosts.

He noted the American banquet with all its noise was so different from the "quiet manners observed at our own banquets."

The ambassadors left San Francisco on April 7 to continue their journey. Muragaki wrote, "There had been so much that was wonderful and new to us that we began to doubt whether we had not been wandering in fairyland."

Days Gone By appears on Sundays. Contact Nilda Rego at nildarego@comcast.net.