Clara’s Diary: An American Girl in Meiji Japan (1875-1884)

Clara Whitney

ISBN 0-87011-470-0


Notes compiled by s-girl 12/2004 for himuragumi (based on 4th edition)


Major dates:

1877 Satsuma Rebellion// Saigo

1878: Ueno National Exhibition (henceforth, every 5 years)

1879: General Grant visits Japan

November 3-5: Birthday of the Mikaido (emperor), schools and stores closed

November 19 (pg 149)  Shokonsha festival (see Shokonsha notes under locales)

December 16: Ichiroku (official holiday ??)

December 9, 1878: Opening of the Imperial Academy of Music

February 3, 1879: Setsuban or “Change of Seasons” (Lunar New Year) is observed at shrines, temples and in homes with a bean throwing ritual (or rice cakes in papers)

February 11, Commemoration of foundation of Nation

March 3: Girl’s Day (see notes on Ginza and customs)

May 5: Boy’s Day

May 15: O Inari – festival in Nagasaka. Inari=rice god, whose servant is the fox.  All girls who dance in public are said to become “blessed with fortune,” although the authoress wryly notes that most do not by her standards.

July 5, 1879: Ulysses S. Grant reception at Ueno park

August 25, 1879: Tournaments at Ueno, coinciding with visit. (pg 266)  Featured:

1.      Lance and sword practice: kenjutsu

2.      Archery by mounted horsemen (Yabusame)

3.      Japanese horsemanship (hōrō and kinubiki)

4.      Inu-ou-mono (24 horsemen with bows and arrows hunting a “sham dog”)

July 6, 1879: Cholera outbreaks occurring in port areas


Technological notes:

l       Steamship Oceanic was in operation at this time.  (Capable of transpacific travel in a few weeks).   Docked at Yokohama. (Have URL if want further info.)

l       Rail between Yokohama and Tokyo existed.  Suggested that train departed hourly by one journal entry. (pg 210)

l       Main mode of transportation w/I town was the jinrikisha (“rikishaw”, pulled by coolies)

l       March 25, 1878: Central Telegraph Company opened,



Pg 31: “Winter and fall are the most pleasant parts of the year. Summers quite warm.”

*note that typhoon season peaks around July. ^___^


Yokohama notes:  Yokohama was described to be filled by ships of many nations, ocean steamers and sailing vessels from all parts of Europe and America.   A “romantic background of white porched mansions, hotels and navy yards, set off by verdant hills.” (pg 27)



Pg 27: Maid works for ten dollars/year

Silk scarves: four yen apiece (see locales)


Foods and goods available:

l       Pg 29: peaches, bread, tomatoes, pears, beans eggplants, eggs, potatoes, corns and onions.  “Pears cheap, peaches not.” “Plenty of tea, coffee, rice, milk, and sugar.”

l       “Furniture and crockery of foreign exportation are the highest of anything in price.”

l       Pg 200: Ice cream!



l       Pg 41: In the advent of an earthquake, “it is best to run outside,” unlike what we are told in the West, due to construction of the buildings.

l       Pg 64: 3 storied teahouse described (from context, appears to be an anomaly. Most buildings were 2 storied).   Had a foreign-furnished dining room.  It appears many buildings at this time (at least amongst those with frequent patronage by Westerners) had at least one ‘western room’ with chairs and tables



l       Pg 56: “Ladies and gentlemen in Japan never meet in social circles as they do in America… it is not proper for the sexes to mingle in society unless the gentlemen wish to marry.”

l       Pg 102: Japanese think it’s a “disgrace for a woman to ride or drive horses.”  (heh.)

l       Pg 110: Post-fire parties (?!):  People bring presents if you were in vicinity of a fire, and your home escapes unharmed.

l       Pg 209: Japanese instruments.  Wagon (ancient harp), koto (modern harp), shō (pipes), biwa (lute), flutes, drums, and hichiriki (oboe)

l       Pg 212: Chushingura – “The Treasury of the Royal Retainers” drama

l       Pg 261 footnote: Portuguese missionaries brought Catholicism to Japan in 1549.  Hideyoshi ordered the expulsion of believers, and Tokugawa banned and persecuted Christians. This ban was not lifted until 1873. 

l       Pg 67: Girl’s Festival: Dolls cost 25 cents to 4 dollars.  “It is customary at this time of year to present every girl with a number of dolls, and the wealthier the family and friends are, the more dolls a girl gets.”  “Dolls represent court life.”

l       “Hairpins” (pg 302), Clara states the hairpin fashions change constantly. The older women favor hair that is tightly and properly put up.  In 1880, at date of this entry, long golden hairpins were “all the rage.”   She stated that the loose, almost down look was in amongst the younger women, much to the chagrin of the person she was conversing with



l       Pg 197: Sakurai Jogakkō (Sakurai girl’s school) mentioned (1878). There were several girls’ schools open at this time.

l       Pg 201: Empress’ College -> Shihan Gakko: “Normal college for females”

l       Pg 234: Dōninsha Jogakkō at Hirakawacho, Darumazaka or “Nakamura’s Girls’ school opens”

l       Pg 235, another school exists in Seido.

l       Pg 236: Imperial Academy of Music at Ushigome (Gagakukyoku): Training school for court musicians, classical music and dance (Chinese and Japanese)

l       Pg 339: Kaiseijo or Kaisei Gakko: Educational institution specializing in Western subjects (1863 was renamed as Kaiseijo) established in 1811 to translate Dutch texts.  In 1877 combined with medical faculty and formed the nucleus of Tokyo University. At the time of this writing the languages taught included Dutch, English, French, German, Russian.  Sciences taught included, astronomy, geography, physics, chemistry, production methods, and printing.  



l       Circus described at least once or twice.  Also, a hot air balloon was described (pg 136)

l       The crest of Tokugawa was described as the aoi or the hollyhock (pg 147)

l       The girl’s name O tsuru means “stork”

l       Kawaji” is mentioned on page 168, as a person who accompanied the Japanese embassy to Washington, D.C.  (1878)  (This Kawaji might be the same described in Kenshin lore)



Ueno Park, op. 1873

(Glossary) Land formerly belonged to the Kan’eiji, was the family temple of the Tokugawa Shoguns

Home to Tōshōgū Shrine (5 storied pagoda)

On a “wooded bluff in eastern part of Tokyo”. At the foot of the bluff is Shimobazu Pond, at the center of which is an island where the Shinto goddess Benten is enshrined.

Note that Seiyoken hotel had a branch restaurant in Ueno. 



Pg 28: Seiyoken Hotel

(Glossary)   “Western style hotel in Tsukiji”, founded 1872, destroyed in the Great Earthquake of 1928  (seemed to be a frequent part of many Westerner’s activities. Meals were regularly served here.)

-Established a branch restaurant in 1876 in Ueno Park

-Stone verandah, dining hall

-General Grant and his wife passed through here during their tour  (pg 251)


Pg 34: Asakusa – one of Tokyo’s largest, downtown amusement districts.  At the heart of Asakusa is Sensoji or Asakusa Kannon Temple after Sho-Kannon, the Goddess of Mercy.

Pg 47: flower garden


Ginza (shopping district)

Pg ??  “Went up the Umemecho (river), crossed the bridge and the great main street was the Ginza.”

Pg 173: Curio store said to be owned by a “character named Hakodateya

Items sold: silks, parasols, crepe, china, flowers, toys

Nihonbashi?? : Doll Show described here.

Pg 211: YMCA  on Ginza


Pg. 111: Daimaru

Two floor structure.  Silkhouse” (pg 116), likened to a “Stewart’s” – sold silks, dresses, shirts, and scarves (scarves noted on pg 161 to be 4 yen apiece)


Pg 48: Hamagoten (The Emperor’s Famous Garden)

Pg 138 “groves of cherry, bamboo, growing sided by side with elm, beech, pine, oak, cedar and palm”, views of Tokyo Bay


Pg 52: Atago

“A popular place for sightseers,  At its summit, supposedly an excellent view of Tokyo and the Bay.


Pg 74: Kabuki theatre on Shibai St.

Pg 160:  Petticoat Lane”/”Thieves Alley” as coined by foreigners (in Shiba): Believed to be place where many stolen items were resold.


Pg 78: Famous gardens of Kameido


Pg ??:  Opening of the Sumidagawa River occurred on July 15, 1877 (lanterns floated downstream in celebration)


Pg 94: Takanawa – the burial place of the 47 Rōnin

The Forty-seven were ex-retainers of a daimyo of moderate standing, who avenged themselves on the shogunal official who had forced their overlord to commit suicide.  These 47 were ordered to commit suicide themselves for having broken the letter of the law.


“A little further on was an old man who sold… mementos of the place.”  We went up a shady path until we entered the cemetery and found in the midst of a green nest of large and noble trees the graves of the 47.  (“The Treasury of the Loyal Retainers” is the kabuki play referenced on page 212 based on this story)


Pg 142: KaitakushiAn experimental farm run by the military.  Clara’s family went to buy vegetables and other things from time to time from there.


Pg 149: Shokonsha

The shrine was established in 1869 and was dedicated to the souls of Japanese who since the Restoration, died in the cause of their country (after 1879, called the Yasukuru Jinga).   The festival that occurred on November 19th was said to have a horse race, an opera (Noh play), wrestling, and fireworks


Pg 97: Enoshima – 36 miles from Tokyo

A sightseeing and summer resort, wooded inlet of 45 acres.  1/4 mile from shore in Sagaru (sp?) Bay


Pg 180: Mukojima

A place for cherry-blossom viewing


Pg 182: Meguro or “Black Eyes”

-A quiet place with one teahouse – the Uchidaya – the walls of which are inlaid with coral and shells

-said to have a garden of iris flowers (pg 240), also peonies (182)

Nearby locales:  Temple of Fudo-sama, grave of Komurasaki and Gonpachi, “two unhappy lovers of olden times”


Pg 208: Nakadori: Full of curio houses, bronze vases, cloisonné house described with a collection of Imari ware


Pg 209:  Conservatory of Japanese music in Yushima near Shokonsha


Pg 232: Cherry blossoms at Mukojima


Pg 258-9: Shintomiza Theatre

The authoress describes attending a play there, one that tells the tale of MInamoto Yishie (Go-sannen Oshu gunki) that features three principals: Sumiyoshi (God of poetry), Hitomaro (poet laureate of the court at Nara), and Tamatsushima (wife of Emperor Inkyo).  

Pg 271: a teahouse across the way served customers



Pg 334: Rokumeikan: Large hall that was described as being rented for the Emperor’s birthday festivities. Accomodates up to a 1000?  Guest list was stated to have included approximately 1000 persons.