Industrialism. About the year 1880, industrialism leapt into existence in this land which, under the old regime, had been divided between an exclusive aristocracy and a humble peasantry, both extremely simple in their tastes. Now almost every town has its sheaf of smoke-stacks, five thousand breaking the sky-line in Ōsaka and its suburbs alone. But why attempt to give statistics which a few weeks will turn into ancient history? Not a month passes without seeing new manufactories of cement, carpets, soap, glass, umbrellas, hats, matches, watches, bicycles, smelting-works, electrical works, steel foundries, machine-shops of every sort. Nor is everything left to private enterprise; government steps in with liberal bounties. The silk industry, once confined to certain narrow districts, is fast spreading over the entire centre and south. Formerly the Nakasendō was an old-world trail among the mountains. The last time we travelled along the new, finely graded carriage road, we were wakened every morning by the scream of the factory whistle. Journeying on and reaching the town of Kōfu, we found its silk filatures to be now its most noteworthy sight, troops of girls coming in at five every morning and working straight on till eight at night,—fifteen hours at a stretch!
The cloud of discontent that has darkened industrialism in the West already begins to obscure the Japanese sky. The "rights of labour" are asserting themselves. We hear of frequent strikes, than which nothing can be imagined further from the whole mental attitude of the working class of even seventeen years ago. For them, as for subjects generally, the watchword was, not rights, but duties. Now quite a new spirit is abroad. The spread of this spirit, the sudden rise in prices and consequently in wages since the China war of 1894-5, and the adoption of a gold standard have affected Japanese industrialism unfavourably. Neither has Japanese ambition been content with those fields of industrial activity, where natural advantages counterbalanced the lack of experience, organisation, and capital. It is probably true also that Japanese labour and Far-Eastern labour generally is less cheap in the long run than appears at first sight; the result of the mechanic's daily toil has been found inferior in quality, and especially in quantity, to that of his Western rival. Doubtless, Japan is passing from the agricultural into the industrial stage, and she may look forward to a bright future, with China's huge market at her gates. Nevertheless, so far as our own mills and factories are concerned, we see little reason for alarm at the prospect of competition in this quarter.
Two or three of the characteristically Japanese industries, or rather arts—for arts they were—such as lacquer and wood-engraving, have been treated separately in this book. But to walk amidst the din of sledge-hammers and the smoke of factory chimneys is not to our taste, neither have we the talent to discourse of the two thousand three hundred odd Japanese banks, or of the brand-new insurance companies, or of the joint-stock companies which, after all, are not things Japanese, but things European recently transplanted.
Book recommended. The British Consular Trade Reports.