This is kind of over kill but the HTTP headers plugin for firefox wasn't telling me the truth. I dev web apps using a locale apache2 server. And in this case I needed to deal out an sjis page, of course rails is utf-8 inside and somewhere/somehow the encoding is getting forced to utf8. So to get the truth tcpdump it.
sudo tcpdump -i lo -Xx -s1500
After this I refreshed the page in question and read the log. Its was clear that rails is always writing utf-8 into the HTTP header which overrode the weaker meta tag setting I was trying to us.