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Kimonos for American Passengers: “Sukiyaki Party” on Transpacific Ocean Liners during the Interwar Period

Sun, June 26, 3:00 to 4:50pm, Shikokan (SK), Floor: 1F, 107


Onboard entertainment using Japanese costumes was the signature service of Japan’s Transpacific Ocean Liners during the Inter-War period. Faced with rising anti-Japanese sentiment in foreign destinations and the domestic demand for foreign currency, Japanese tourism industry made various efforts to attract more Western tourists. In 1926, NYK (Nippon Yusen Kaisha or Japan Mailing Company) launched its service from Yokohama to San Francisco. Its management decided to enhance Japanese-themed activities for its inbound trips so that American passengers would have a “foretaste of Japan” before they set foot on the island empire. During the twelve day voyage via Honolulu, the passengers were provided with various entertainment in which variations of the kimono played an important role. The highlight for American passengers was the “Sukiyaki Party,” a casual dinner with beef and vegetables served in hot pots, during which they were given the opportunity to try on a yukata made of cotton and have their photographs taken, an experience especially popular among women passengers. These dinners took place a few days before the arrival in Yokohama and were served on the deck decorated with lanterns. Another variation of kimono was a happi-coat made of silk that was given away as a game prize. In addition, in the “Steward Talent Show,” stewards in full traditional costume presented a part of Kabuki play. This paper illustrates how, building on the orientalist images of Japanese culture, the Japanese shipping company used variations of the kimono to provide “Japanese experiences” to American passengers on the Pacific.