Japan As They Saw It > Contents > Economy > Modernization

Opposite Desima, and on the other side of the bay, the Japanese have a large factory in active operation. The machinery has been imported from Europe, and the superintendents are Dutch. The Japanese workmen appear to be most expert hands at moulding and casting, and in the general management of steam machinery. In this respect they are far in advance of their neighbours the Chinese. Indeed, to adopt everything foreign which they suppose to be useful, however different it may be from what they possess themselves, and to make themselves masters of the mode of working it, is a marked feature in the character of the Japanese people.

Yedo and Peking (1863)

One feature which struck us in our walk through the native town of Nagasaki was the number of sewing machines. In every shop where sewing had to be done they were to be seen. In one tailor’s shop we saw two or three at work. It seemed to us that, in proportion to the population, the sewing machines must be as plentiful in Japan as in England. It rather came upon me with surprise to see these machines. I had been walking along, taken up with the first sight of a new country, where the houses and streets and every feature is new, and sewing machines were about the last thing I should have expected to come across. In a native shop we saw also a photographic camera, on its folding tripod, all complete and new, for sale; and a bill in the window announced that every article connected with photography might be had within. It was, in fact, a shop devoted entirely to the sale of photographic materials. As Europeans get such things direct from England, this establishment was principally for supplying the Japanese, and while it indicates the extent to which the art is practised by them, it becomes in itself one of the many evidences of the rapid changes now going on.

Meeting the Sun (1874)

The Tokio of to-day [1872] is very different from the city to which we came nearly three years ago. Few two-sworded men are now seen in the streets, and we go among the people with much freedom. The foreign population has greatly increased, and the house at Ro-ku-ban is no longer the only foreign building in this part of the Concession. Soon a railroad will connect Tokio with Yokohama, and a church for foreigners will be erected. It seems as though the mere sight of a Christian church here will have its effect on the Japanese. And yet even this spring we heard rumors of rebellion and of the possible expulsion of foreigners from Japan, and stories of a general massacre, to take place some time in April, reached our ears, but the bright spring days passed away, bringing no signs of intended violence.

The Sunrise Kingdom (1879)

Much has been written with regard to the rapidity with which the change has occurred, and it is indeed impossible not to forget that only fifteen years ago no European could set foot in Japan except a Dutchman, and he only in one town. About ten years ago Japanese soldiers wore hideous iron masks, and carried bows, and foreign ministers could not traverse the streets of the capital itself without a strong guard. Now, although in the interior of the country you see no direct evidence of the foreign influence, you can, if provided with a passport, travel alone with perfect safety, and indeed receiving more courtesy from the people than is the case in any other country with which I am acquainted. In the towns, of course, direct foreign influence is noticeable at every turn. The officials are dressed in European dress, the police are European in appearance, the French light infantry bugle marches are heard in the neighbourhood of all the barracks. From the French having drilled the army and the English the marines, the latter have all the British stolidity of their teachers, while the sentries of the guards at the gate of the Mikado’s gardens strut up and down cuddling their rifles, or stand with their feet astraddle, in exactly the way in which, under the Empire, the Zouaves used to stand at the Tuileries gates. The bugles of the guards make day as horrible in the neighbourhood of the castle, as do the drums and fifes of the marines in the neighbour hood of the port.

English influence, of course, draws certain evils in its train. Birmingham metal work, cut-glass decanters, gingham umbrellas, and hideous boots and felt hats are spreading in the towns, and it has been my unfortunate fate to see an ex-Daimio dressed in a ready made coat, driving a gig, and to behold the detestable suburban villa, near Tokio, in which another lives.

English Influence in Japan (1876)

Although Tokio is in the main still a Japanese city, exhibiting everywhere the life, the customs, and the costumes of the Japanese people, it bears many manifest and obtrusive evidences of European interposition. The railway, with its European station and equipments, is the first great contrast with the native architecture and appliances which strikes one. Not far from it is the foreign settlement, where many of the houses are of European type; and in looking over the city from an eminence, one sees bank buildings, schools, and occasional residences of foreign pattern rising up above the less elevated Japanese buildings—less elevated save as regards the temples alone, which here and there stand up high above all other Japanese constructions. Most of the great educational establishments, such as the University, the College of Engineering, the Military College, and the Naval College, are of European style; as are also some of the barracks, and likewise some of the manufacturing establishments. In fact, buildings of this style, with which alone we are familiar at home, but which were perfectly unknown in Tokio a few years ago, are now very frequent and conspicuous objects in the bird’s-eye view of the city.

Japan: Its History, Traditions, and Religions (1880)

A few days ago there reached the writer’s ears the echo of a remark to the effect that Japan was played out, that the tide of her progress was on the ebb, that she was destined to fall back into the oblivion from which she lately emerged. The man who uttered such a sentiment can hardly have lived in the country which he is criticizing. Played out Japan may be in so far as there is concerned the possibility of her furnishing to foreign merchants exorbitant profits,* such as—not always, it is believed, by the fairest means—fell into their hands in the ‘champagne times’ a few years ago; but, as one of the national powers which are working for the advancement of the human race, she is far from being played out.

*It is said that when the country was first opened, some of the foreign merchants were unscrupulous enough to take advantage of the ignorance of the people, by buying gold for its weight in silver.

The Land of the Morning (1882)

Sir Rutherford Alcock’s account of Japan some twenty years ago is now ancient history. Through the district where Daimios (feudal barons) and their train of two-sworded retainers ready to cut down foreign barbarians monopolised the only road in the country a few years since, we passed to-day in a first-class railway carriage, with a neat Japanese guard, the imperial chrysanthemum blossom on his gold-laced cap; the only European we saw anywhere was one man on the engine. There were bookstalls filled with Japanese books; and railway rugs, native clogs, kites, and paper toys were sold at the spacious terminus; pillar letterboxes, gas-lamps, and policemen in London costume (not the helmet) were to be seen. All this Western civilisation imported in twenty years; and now the Japanese are dismissing their expensive European officials and working out the new order, which is destined to take the place of the old, for themselves.

Journal of a Lady’s Travels Round the World (1883)

It was curious—but everything in this country is a curious combination of East and West, ancient and modern civilisation—to watch our first-class fellow-passengers [on a train from Kobe to Osaka], Japanese gentlemen in native dress and wooden clogs, with English railway tickets in their girdles, looking as if they had been accustomed to travel in railway carriages all their life, reading their Japanese daily papers, and discussing the state of their money market. The editor of the Japanese ‘Daily News,’ a clever, intelligent man speaking very fair English, sat next H. at a Japanese dinner the other night, and discussed politics and religion, on which latter subject he held decidedly ‘wide’ views. He had travelled a good deal, and been invited to become a Christian in England, a Musalman in Constantinople, and a Hindoo by the Brahmins of India; but he seems to have remained a Buddhist—if anything.

Journal of a Lady’s Travels Round the World (1883)

I happened to ask my brother one day when we were travelling through a quiet country district whether this was not really “Old Japan,” for not a trace of the new foreign influence seemed to be visible anywhere. His only reply was to point out a man who was diligently reading a newspaper in a shop, and to say, “That would have been impossible in the old days.”

Japan As We Saw It (Bickersteth) (1893)

Nagoya presents like the other cities much the same anomalous position of semi-civilization. Broad spacious roads lined with the two storied paper-like wooden houses, have avenues of telegraph poles along them, and are illuminated with brush electric lights. Even the little inn, with its flimsy rooms, boasted of six European bedsteads, and was lighted by electricity. There are not, even in England, many country inns that can boast of possessing the electric light, and yet we were served here with a table-d’hote of half a dozen courses, excellently cooked and served, and waited upon hand and foot by the proprietor and his courteous Japanese young ladies, who were endeavouring all they could to add to their knowledge of the English language. The inn was significantly and rightly named the “Hotel du Progrés.”

Impressions of a Journey Round the World (1897)

We were quickly taken to Tokio, the ancient Yeddo, the present capital of Japan with a population of nearly two million people. Here we found a large hotel, the Imperial, superior to many hotels that could have been found in London twenty-five years ago, and with all modern improvements. Broad, electric-lighted streets, with avenues of trees, under which tramcars were running, give one some further idea as to the progress the Japanese are making in civilizing or rather Americanising themselves. Unfortunately this Americanisation is only ruining their natural courteous manners, and the appearance of some of the men attired in broad-patterned English tweed suits is ludicrous to behold, when compared with the quiet-looking silk kimonos worn generally.

Impressions of a Journey Round the World (1897)

The best Japanese society seriously struggles to copy our ways and habits. I am sure the Tokio ultra-fashionables all read our edifying periodicals, which tell their subscribers not to eat soup with a sponge or place feet upon furniture. I believe, too, that they keep a staff of special experts scanning the society papers from London, Paris, New York, and Vienna, just to answer those who eagerly inquire, “What must we copy next?”

Every season these experts advise some new fashion—they would soon lose their positions if they suggested no novelties, as the Japanese, like children, quickly tire of the same game and require another—and this fashion is enthusiastically followed—for a time. One year I remember giant picnics, copied from America, became the rage. Rich people gave serial outdoor entertainments lasting for three days, at which they extravagantly provided five kinds of food on the same plate. Newspapers fed school children in picturesque spots; employers arranged monster outings for their workmen—outings so huge that a member of the General Staff must have been borrowed to plan the commissariat arrangements. But this fashion lasted an unusually short time even for Japan. The railway officials found themselves utterly unable to cope with the crowds who wanted to get to the same place at the same moment, and, furthermore, many towns seriously objected to being flooded with the unruly population that rightly belonged to another part of the Empire.

Behind the Screens (1910)

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