Though some Japanese dishes are found palatable by Americans there are many things we miss in the Japanese cuisine. It lacks variety. Breakfast, luncheon, and dinner are composed of about the same dishes. The divers well-cooked vegetables which form such an important part of our diet are entirely absent from theirs, nor do they have stewed fruits, salads, sweets, or the numerous meats to which we are accustomed.
Of their best-known table delicacies it may be said that grilled eels with rice are very good; that the pink fish, the flesh of which is eaten raw, is pleasing to the eye and by no means unpalatable when dipped in the accompanying shoyu, a brown sauce not unlike Worcestershire, made from soy beans; that though they have no cream soups, some of their soups are pleasant to the taste, albeit they have the peculiarity of being either thin and watery on the one hand, or of the consistency of custard on the other; that bamboo shoots are rather tough, lily roots sweet and succulent, and quail eggs delicious. The Japanese, by the way, domesticate the quail for its eggs, regard the cow not as a milch animal but as a beast of burden, and cultivate the cherry tree not for its fruit but for its flower.
The diet of ancient Japan was even less varied than that of to-day, for more than a thousand years ago the Japanese became vegetarians, and for some centuries thereafter adhered scrupulously to the Buddhistic injunction against killing living creatures. For several hundred years they even abjured fish, but by degrees they have fallen away from the strict observance of the vegetarian doctrine, until today a Japanese who is at all sophisticated will thoroughly enjoy a dinner in the European style, beef and all. Indeed many of those who have travelled abroad and acquired a taste for foreign cookery make it a point to have at least one of their daily meals prepared in the foreign fashion.
Government officials or wealthy cosmopolitans who entertain on a large scale usually do so in the European manner. A banquet at the Imperial Hotel in Tokyo is much like a banquet in New York, and one at the Bankers' Club is even more so, except that the meal itself is likely to be better than at our banquets. To dine with a large gathering at the Peers' Club is like dining at some great club or official residence in Paris; while as for the cocktail hour at the Tokyo Club I cannot imagine anything in the world more completely and delightfully international.
An important part of the equipment for a meal in the pure Japanese style is a smoker's outfit, consisting of a tray on which stands a small urn of live charcoal, and a bamboo vase with a little water in it--the former for lighting the tobacco, the latter a receptacle for ashes. The native smoke is a tiny pipe, called a two-and-a-half-puff pipe, with a bowl as small as a child's thimble. Finely shredded Japanese tobacco is smoked in this pipe, which is used by men and women alike, and the constant refilling and relighting of it seem to figure as a part of the pleasure of smoking.