Economy

Commerce

There is but one new commercial prospect that seems opening for Japan. The Government is at present engaged on a praiseworthy attempt to introduce sheep, with the view of converting the hills into pasture land. If this can ever be done, the population and the wealth of Japan may be enormously increased. The hills cover two-thirds of the country; the forests that once stood on them have all been cut, not a stick of timber has been planted, and no use whatever is made of the mountain tracts.

English Influence in Japan (1876)

In this age, in which speculative ideas are so closely followed by practice, and immediate results are expected to follow the slightest discovery, the great question is, of what use will Japan, that country so long all but unknown, be to those who have been so assiduous in forcing an entry therein? The Government of the United States, which was the first to take a decided step, was no doubt prompted thereto by a laudable curiosity, and the desire to rival and take precedence of all European powers in throwing open the land, so to provide harbours of refuge for her whaling fleet, the largest in the world. Russia has a still stronger interest in the matter, as her colonies adjoin Japan, and the pioneers of either power come in contact upon an unsettled boundary. But the great object of England and America was the rich commerce expected from free intercourse with the people. How far such an object has already been, or is likely to be attained, I will endeavour to show in a few words.

The Portuguese, and afterwards the Dutch, realized enormous profits on their trade, which was chiefly in the precious metals; and it is estimated that those nations drew from Japan, during the ninety-five years preceding the prohibition in 1708, metal to the amount of nearly one million pounds sterling per annum. About that year the exportation of gold and silver was forbidden, and that of copper allowed only to the amount of 15,000 piculs. From that time the exports gradually decreased, and during the present century the trade at Nangasaki was insignificant. The Dutch still retain the monopoly of copper, which, however, will shortly expire. The principal imports by foreigners were raw silk, dye-woods, iron and glass, cotton and woollen cloths; their exports, besides the metals, were camphor, lacquer ware, wax, and sulphur.

On the general opening of trade, or rather before it, in 1858–9, many fortunate speculations were made at Nangasaki and Yokahama, and cargoes of sea-weed, fish, lacquer ware, and wax were shipped for the China market; but this was only of short duration. At the end of the latter year hardly anything could be obtained at all, and many ships had to return as they came. The Government forbad the sale of any one commodity to a larger amount than fifteen piculs per day, and refused to furnish Japanese coin to a greater extent than fifty dollars per day. In addition to this, prices naturally augmented in the ratio of the new demand. The first comers were enabled not only to get rid of their cargoes to advantage, but to purchase the productions of the country at a very low rate; but with the increasing demand the prices of most articles mounted upwards of 500 per cent. in the course of a few months.

The great hope of political economists in looking towards this country was that the cottons and woollens of England would find purchasers among the thirty or forty millions of its people; but it is a hope not at all likely to be soon fulfilled; for what has Japan to give in exchange? She cannot furnish those two important commodities which China does—raw silk and tea—in themselves more than sufficient to balance the imports of our manufactured goods. She has now no abundant supply of the precious metals, apparently not even enough to maintain the currency of the country, and the produce of her soil can only be very little over and above her own consumption. Besides, as I before said, the Japanese have their own cottons and linens, cheap and abundant, and their thick wadded cottons are used in the place of woollen garments. Japan has probably in the bowels of her mountains wealth enough to balance almost any amount of importation, but that wealth can never be available until European art assists Japanese industry in working the rich mines, which, though said to be nearly exhausted, are probably only so in relation to the imperfect way in which they are worked. Free trade, free intercourse, and time, will alone show how far this country can answer the expectations which have been formed; the people, it is true, are willing, but the government is averse to such a state of affairs, and it will only be when the same policy has been enacted against it as against China, that there can be any chance of success.

Japan, the Amoor, and the Pacific (1861)

When foreign articles first came into favour, the manufacture of counterfeit trade marks and labels became a regular trade, in which even the owners of respectable printing offices felt no compunction in being implicated. Orders for the production of Bass’ and Guiness’ labels were executed by the gross; the testimonials and certificates which accompany Dr Collis Browne’s chlorodyne were counterfeited so neatly as to deceive even foreign customers; three-star labels were produced to adorn bottles filled with native brandy; condensed milk of Japanese manufacture was marked as ‘The Eagle Brand,’ etc., etc. It is said that in one restaurant it was possible to get any drink one liked, if one only waited till the barman had affixed the appropriate label. Even yet there is in Tôkiyô a shop called the Kaikoba, or Institution for the Development of Manufactures, which has been established for the express purpose of trading in imitations of foreign articles. There one may see bottles labelled ‘White Wine. Rheims;’ or boxes containing ‘The Baby’s Complete Nurser,’ with the words, ‘Manufactured by the Good Year Rabber Company;’ or cases of crayons stamped thus: ‘One Gross School Crayon. The very best. examination. The beginning to make. Koyash. Tôkiyô.’

How much real intent to deceive there is in all this it is difficult to say. At first there can be no doubt that many counterfeits were made in ignorance of the true nature of a trade mark, the Japanese dealer regarding this as merely descriptive of the quality of the goods to which it was affixed. But that there was also much conscious fraud, especially as knowledge of the foreign market increased, cannot be doubted.

The Land of the Morning (1882)