Japanese Industries, Art And Commerce

The basis of Japanese industry is agricultural, although each year shows a decreasing proportion engaged in tie tilling of the soil. Rice is the principal product, but owing to the large amount consumed at home it is not the chief export. As this crop needs an abundance of water, the rice fields occupy the low lands and the mountain gorges. Sometimes the narrow valleys that pierce the ranges are so terraced as to look like steps, and at this time of the year when the crop is being harvested, they resemble golden stairs. The men and women work together in the field, and in many places we saw them standing almost knee deep in mud, cutting the grain with old fashioned hand-sickles. The rice is tied in bundles somewhat smaller than our wheat sheaves, and hung over poles or laid along the edge of a terrace to cure. If the threshing is delayed the grain is stacked, not as we stack wheat and oats in the United States, but in little columns with the heads of the sheaves tied to a pole in the center. Sometimes the stacks are built around a living tree. The grain is separated from the straw by means of a long toothed comb, and at this season innumerable groups of per-sons are busily engaged at this work. The yellow heaps of rice in the hull, looking from a distance like wheat, can be seen from the train and from the country roads. Straw mats are used to keep the grain off the ground and, I may add, the mat is in evidence everywhere in Japan and is used for all sorts of purposes.

The cultivation of the tea plant is an industry of no small magnitude, although not so universal as the cultivation of rice. The tea fields occupy the higher levels and add an interesting variety to the landscapes. At one point on the railroad between Yokohama and Nagoya the hillsides are covered with tea plantations, if such tiny farms can be called plantations. The tea plant is something like our goose-berry and currant bushes in size, but the foliage is much thicker. The leaves vary widely in value, from the cheaper grades, which are exported, to the Uji which costs what is equivalent to five or more dollars per pound.

Some cotton is grown here, but the cotton plant as we saw it is small compared with our plant, and the tillable area is too limited to admit of the growing of cotton on a large scale.

Tobacco is cultivated to some extent, but the sale of manufactured tobacco is a government prerogative.

Raw silk is by far the most valuable export, thirty-five million dollars’ worth having been sent abroad last year. Three-fifths of the entire export goes to the United States, the remainder-to Europe, with France as the largest European purchaser. As fifteen million dollars’ worth of silk fabrics went abroad also, as against five million dollars’ worth of tea and four million dollars’ worth of rice, it will be seen that the cultivation of the silk worm and the mulberry tree is extensively carried on. The silk worms are kept indoors and the leaves brought in to them. When put outdoors the silk worms are devoured by birds.

Fruits grow here in great variety. We have found everywhere apples of excellent quality, raised in the northern parts of the islands, while the southern islands produce oranges, bananas and pineapples. The apple tree was imported from America about thirty-five years ago; now apples are exported to China and Siberia. The most popular orange is the tangerine, or kid glove orange as it is sometimes called; many of these Are exported.

There is a kind of fruit called the ban-tan grown on the island of Kyushu u. It looks something like the grape fruit, but grows considerably larger and has a thicker skin ; the meat is pink in color, sweeter and less juicy than the grape fruit. Pears grow here; one variety looks like a russet apple in shape and color. Peach trees are sometimes trained as we train grape vines on an arbor, so that the orchard seems to have a flat roof of foliage.

They have here, too, persimmons as large as apples and as solid. We found these on the table in all parts of the island and there are several varieties. The grape is cultivated in Japan, but we did not see grape vines in such profusion as they are seen in southern Europe, along the lakes in western New York or in California. And, in this connection, I may add that wine is not used here to the extent that it is in some other countries, the national drink, sake, being made from fermented rice. Ordinarily this beverage contains from eleven to fourteen per cent of alcohol, but there is a stronger kind called shochu, which contains as much as fifty per cent of alcohol. It is evident, however, that liquor by any other name can be as intoxicating as our whisky, and we found at Tokyo a national temperance society with branches through-out the empire. Mr. Ando, the president of this society, is a Japanese gentleman of great earnestness and intelligence, who was converted to Christianity a few years ago when he was representing his country in Honolulu. While, as I have stated in another article, I have seen no evidences of drunkenness, Mr. Ando informs me that his society has ample work to do. I carry back with me a badge which the society gave me on learning of my total abstinence habits. I have only mentioned the leading products of the field, but I can not leave the cultivators of the soil without a word concerning the gardens. They are so cute, occupying as they do the little nooks and corners that can not be utilized for the large crops. There does not seem to be a square inch of ground wasted. The vegetables are planted in rows which are either straight or curved, never crooked, and we have scarcely seen a weed. Fertilizer is extensively used, being kept in stone or cement vats protected from the weather by a straw colored shed. Near the cities the soil is enriched by the refuse from closets which is collected and carried away during the night. The introduction of sewage systems has been somewhat impeded in some cities by the fact that sewage would be an expense while closets are now a source of profit. It must be confessed, however, that the present system tends to make fresh vegetables unpopular with the tourist.

Most travelers land at Yokohama and depart at Kobe, or land at Kobe and depart at Yokohama, these being the two principal ports. As these are about 300 miles apart, one has a chance to see much of the farming land from the railroad. The side trips from Tokyo to Nikko, from Yokohama to Miyanoshita and from Kyoto to Nara, give additional opportunities for seeing the farmer at work, but the ride from Kobe west to Shimonoseki surpasses any of these in interest and in beauty of scenery. As this route leads along the sea coast as well as through densely populated valleys, there is greater variety. Now one skirts the inland sea, with its numerous islands, its transparent waters, its little harbors and its fleets of fishing boats ; now he winds his way along a stream with falls and rapids and spanned by frail foot bridges or by stone wagon bridges. On the one side he sees a bamboo grove and on the other a tiny graveyard or a little hill dedicated to a Shinto shrine—stone steps ascending along a shaded path from the sacred gate, which invariably marks the entrance to holy ground. In passing over this railroad route one gathers a large amount of information concerning the industries of the sea coast, as well as those of the inland, and besides one can visit the Shimonoseki Strait which is of historie interest to Americans. The Sanyo railroad, which connects Kobe and Shimonoseki, is well equipped and well managed and has built an excellent hotel, The Sanyo, at Shimonoseki for the accommodation of its patrons. From this point a steamer runs to Fusan, the nearest Korean port, where direct connection is made for Seoul, the Korean capital. From Moji, just across the strait from Shimonoseki, one can take a train to Nagasaki, the western seaport of Japan. At Shimonoseki one is shown the house in which Marquis Ito and Li Hung Chang drafted the Japanese-Chinese treaty in 1894.

Mining is an industry of considerable importance here. Gold, silver and copper are found in paying quantities. More than six million dollars’ worth of copper was exported last year. One of the gold fields on the island of Kyushu, near Kagoshima, gives promise of considerable richness. Coal is found in such abundance that the exports of this commodity have amounted to nearly ten million dollars in a single year. A hard quality of smokeless coal has recently been discovered in western Japan.

The islands also produce a number of varieties of valuable. woods. The camphor tree grows to an enormous size, a gigantic statue of the Goddess of Mercy in one of the temples at Kamakura being carved from a single camphor log. The value of the camphor ex-ported from Japan last year exceeded a million and a half dollars. Among the hard woods suitable for carving, cherry seems to be the most popular.

Of all the trees, however, the bamboo is the most useful. Just at this time when the returning soldiers are being welcomed, it is present everywhere in the form of flag poles, and there is nothing that equals it for this purpose; long, slender, light and strong, it is just the thing for flags and banners, and when a. little plume of leaves is left ai the top, it is still more beautiful. The bamboo is used for water pipes and for fences, for furniture and picture tubes, for dippers, baskets, fishing poles, flower vases, candlesticks, wicker work, etc., etc.

In wood carving the Japanese have long been skilled. Specimens of work done hundreds of years ago and testifying to their taste, no less than to their deftness of hand, may be seen in their ancient palaces and temples.

Stone cutting is also an ancient industry here. There is an abundance of stone and granite, while the lanterns, Korean lions and sacred gates have furnished subjects for many a chisel. Osaka seems to be the center of the stone cutting industry.

The iron industry is represented by an increasing number of establishments. In many instances workmen have been brought from abroad and employed until Japanese artisans were sufficiently trained to take their place. Much of the iron work is still done in little shops and by hand, although machinery is being imported in large quantities.

I visited a tannery at Kagoshima and found that the proprietor had spent seven years in America learning the business, and that on his return he had taught native help each branch of the business. He is now turning out an excellent product.

One of the most promising industries in Japan is cotton spinning. There are a number of factories already in operation and new ones are building. I visited one of the plants of the Osaka Nippon Boseki Kaisha at Osaka. This company has about seventy thousand spindles and the mills employ nothing but native labor. Foreign artisans were used in the beginning, but are no longer needed. A great many women are employed and some children; for the latter a school is maintained for two hours a day in the building. Cotton yarn is now selling for about forty cents a pound and is becoming one of the leading articles of export; China is the largest purchaser. Some idea of the growth of this branch of industry can be gathered from the fact that the exports of cotton yarn amounted to less than four thousand dollars in 1891 and 1892; in 1896 it had grown to over two millions, in 1898 to over ten millions, and during the last two years it has averaged about fifteen millions.

At Osaka I also visited a brush industry and found that from bones, imported from the slaughter houses of America, and from bristles, purchased in Russia and in China, they made tooth, nail and hair brushes for export to both Europe and America. Here, too, they have dispensed with the foreign labor which they employed in the beginning.

Earthenware is manufactured in abundance and of every variety. The exports of porcelain and earthenware reached almost two million dollars last year. In Kyoto we visited a pottery and found two rooms in which the finished product was displayed ; the first contained beautiful specimens of Japanese skill, graceful in shape and dainty in decoration; the second was filled with big pieces in loud colors and of inferior workmanship. These last articles, we were informed, were made especially for the American trade.

Some beautiful porcelain work is done in Kyoto, the decoration rep-resenting a high degree of artistic skill.

One of the most famous kinds of china produced by Japan is known as Satsuma ware, the glazing of which is of a peculiar tint and has a crackled appearance. The secret of the manufacture of this ware was brought from Korea by the captives taken in war some three hundred years ago, and the industry still flourishes in Japan, although it has perished in Korea. Kagoshima is the center for Satsuma ware, and a colony of Koreans living near there, as well as Japanese manufacturers, produce excellent specimens.

Lacquer work has been done in Japan from time immemorial, samples of which, centuries old, can be seen in temples, palaces and museums. When gold and silver are used in connection with the lacquer the product is often very valuable.

The bronzes produced in the little shops scattered over Japan give play to the artistic taste which one finds here. Osaka and Kyoto are noted for their bronzes. Sometimes various metals are inlaid in the forms of flowers, birds, animals and landscapes, producing a most pleasing effect. Then there are damascene factories and places for embroidery and for pictures made in cut velvet, etc., etc.

No one can pass through Japan without being impressed with the taste, which seems to be national, and with the delicate skill which has been handed down from generation to generation. And nothing, in my judgment, more clearly exhibits this union of taste and skill than the Cloisonne work. Upon a metallic base, as a vase, placque or box, an artist draws a design ; this design is then outlined with fine wires of gold and silver, then enamels of various colors are filled in. When the enamels are hardened and the whole polished, the product is a thing of marvelous beauty.

I have not space to speak of the minor industries, such as paper making, matches (in which Japan monopolizes the trade of the East), fans, umbrellas, lanterns, napkins, etc. The Japanese lantern which we use for ornamentation is here a practical thing, in daily, or rather nightly, use. These lanterns hang in front of the houses and are carried on the streets. They are also used for illumination on festive occasions; at the time of the naval review and the reception to Admiral Togo, Yokohama and Tokyo were illuminated by these lanterns as I never saw an American city lighted.

When Japan was opened to the commerce of the world, there were few business houses or trading establishments of any size. Now there are several department stores and large wholesale houses, besides manufacturing and trading companies of importance. One business man in Tokyo, Mr. K. Okura, has a private collection of curios valued at one million dollars, which he offered to sell in Europe or America, the proceeds to be given to the government for carrying on the war against Russia. Osaka has a successful business man who has earned the name of the “Japanese Carnegie” by giving a fine library building to that city.

Consul General Miller, at Yokohama, and Consul Sharp, at Kobe, furnished me with interesting statistics regarding the commerce of Japan. Exports have increased from about eighty millions in 1891 to about three hundred and twenty millions in 1904; during the same period imports increased from a little more than sixty-three millions to a little more than three hundred and seventy-one millions. While our country sells less to Japan than Great Britain and British India, she buys more than any other nation from Japan. Our chief ex-ports to Japan last year were electric motors, locomotive engines, steam boilers and engines, iron pipes, nails, lead, oil, paraffine wax, cotton drills, cotton duck, raw cotton, tobacco, coal, cars, turning lathes, condensed milk, flour and wheat. Of these items, flour, raw cotton and oil were by far the most valuable, each amounting to more than four and a half million dollars.

In the ocean carrying trade, Japan is making rapid strides. In ten years her registered steamers have increased from four hundred and sixty-one to twelve hundred and twenty-four and her sailing vessels from one hundred and ninety-six to three thousand five hundred and twenty-three. There are now two hundred private ship yards in Japan, and in 1903 they built two hundred and seventy-nine vessels. The Japan Mail Steamship Company has a paid-up capital of eleven milli-6n dollars, runs steamers between Japan, America, Europe and Asia and pays a ten per cent dividend on its capital. The Osaka Mercantile Steamship Company (Osaka Shosen Kaisha) has a paid-up capital of nearly three and a half million dollars, owns about one hundred vessels and pays a dividend of ten per cent. These are the largest companies, but there are many smaller ones, some paying dividends of sixteen and twenty per cent.

I will close this article with the suggestion that the mercantile marine seems likely to show large growth in the future, offering, as it does, a legitimate field for national expansion.

Japan’s fishing industries furnish a training for seamen and her people seem at home upon the water. She needs more territory for her expanding population and has about reached the limit in the cultivation of her tillable land. Every additional ship manned by her citizens is like a new island, rising from the waves, upon which her increasing population can be supported. If she seeks to acquire land in any direction, she finds her efforts contested by the inhabitants already there; no wonder she hails with delight these floating farms constructed by the genius of her own people—new land, as it were, won and held without the sacrifice of war.