Living used to be extremely cheap in Japan. It is so no longer. The general voice of grumblers among the residents proclaims that it nowadays costs as much to live here in exile as at home in Europe, with the additional drawback that you get less for your money, except it be comparative ease of mind in the matter of servants. Grumblers among the tourists give vent to complaints of similar tenour. Travelling in Japan, they allege, is as expensive as in America, and infinitely less comfortable. To our mind the question, so far as travellers are concerned, really reduces itself to this: are you willing to forego some of your home conveniences, are you willing to spend money, in order to study a unique civilisation in one of its most interesting phases? If not, if your object in coming abroad is to find or make everything exactly the same as at home, then you have miscalculated.
Statistics published towards the end of 1900 showed the average prices of the forty principal staples of Japanese production to have advanced forty-two per cent, between the years 1896 and 1899 alone. This extraordinarily rapid rise was ascribed by the then Minister of Finance to inflation consequent on the successful war against China in 1894-5. Doubtless that was one cause. Side issues branching out from it may be discovered in the doubling of the personnel of the army which was then commenced, and which, while taking away hands from production, added idle mouths. Furthermore, the emigration of artisans and coolies to Formosa contributed to a rise of wages in Japan proper, and may have affected prices in other ways; for so potent a cause cannot have remained without far-reaching results. Be this as it may, and without attempting to treat the question exhaustively, but merely mentioning a few items at haphazard, we note that the price of land in Tōkyō trebled during the last four or five years of the nineteenth century, that house rent has trebled during the last thirty years (for the very poor it has quintupled), that the average price of labour has trebled, that hotel charges have trebled, washing has nearly doubled, jinrikisha hire has quadrupled, and that it costs three times as much to build a house now as it did then. University students, who formerly got along on 11 yen a month, can scarcely now manage under 20 yen. The price of a box for the ten days wrestling matches at Ekō-in, Tōkyō, rose from 40 to 54 yen for the best places, and from 38 to 45 yen for the next best in the single year between January, 1900, and January, 1901. The published accounts of a Tōkyō lady's household testify to the following rise in prices between the years 1877 and 1900:—
|Public bath||7 rin||2½ sen|
|Potatoes (per quart)||3½ sen||8 sen|
|Charcoal (per bag)||18 sen||28 sen|
|Radishes (per bundle)||4½ sen||7½ sen|
|Paper (per quire)||17⁄10 sen||3 sen|
| do. (best)||11 sen||25sen|
|Pickled greens (per barrel)||41 sen||75 sen|
|Indoor sandals (per pair)||5 sen||7 sen|
|Lamp oil (vegetable)||3 sen||54⁄10 sen|
|Best soy (per barrel)||1 yen 12½ sen||2 yen 80 sen|
|Firewood (per 50 bundles)||1 yen 50 sen||2 yen 80 sen|
|Maidservant per month||1 yen||Over 2 yen|
|Carpenter (per diem)||25 sen||80 sen|
The only household requisites that had become cheaper, according to the same authority, during the quarter century were
|Lamp chimneys||12 sen||5 sen|
|Petroleum (per tin)||2 yen 40 sen||1 yen 70 sen|
owing, doubtless, to the discovery of native petroleum fields, and to the fact that glass is now manufactured at Tōkyō instead of being imported, as formerly, from abroad.
All the above statements as to prices are endorsed by another notable housewife whom we have consulted, and who points out that a further considerable rise has taken place even between 1900 and 1904 in certain articles, soy, for instance, which now stands as high as 3 yen 75 sen per barrel, charcoal which is 50 sen as against 28, maidservants wages which now range between 3 and 5 yen monthly, and carpenters pay which is 1 yen a day. In others, the rise is very slight: thus, vegetable oil costs 6 sen in 1904 as against 54⁄10 sen in 1900. The same lady contributes the following comparative list for the last twenty-nine years:—
|Ladies hairdressing||5 sen||10 sen|
|" clogs||80 sen||3 yen 80 sen|
|Kitchen maids ditto||5 sen||22 sen|
|Eggs from||5 rin to 1½ sen||3 to 3½ sen|
|Chickens (per lb.)||6 sen||33 sen|
|Sake (good)||25 sen||70 sen|
|Sugar (per lb.)||8 sen||16 sen|
|Mats (tatami)||65 sen||3 yen|
|Matting (goza, 6 ft. piece)||16 sen||50 sen|
A quarter of a century ago, the native traveller who sat down to rest awhile and sip a cup of tea at a wayside teahouse, bestowed, on departing, what was called a tempō sen, that is, 8 rin of modern money, or less than an English farthing. He now gives 5 sen, and if well-dressed, 10 sen, that is, two-pence halfpenny, or twelve and a half times as much as formerly.
If the whole subject were to be discussed in detail, it would be proper to draw attention to the fact that previous to 1897 the standard currency of Japan was silver, which had steadily depreciated in value during a long term of years as compared with gold. To state the case more fully still, however, it would be proper to draw attention to the further fact that, as the Japanese public had practically never known gold, the depreciation of silver as measured by foreigners in gold had for them no actuality. Moreover, prices have risen continuously and rapidly even since the introduction of the gold standard, as exemplified in some of the items above quoted. Standards and bi- and monometallisms have, therefore, little to do with the case. Prices have risen absolutely, and they go on rising daily, quite irrespective, too, of any increased demands on comfort by the people at large. True, all classes now display a somewhat greater inclination towards expensive habits than of old. But the change has been slow and comparatively slight,—nowise equal in magnitude to the political change, nor yet equal to that general rush for luxury which has revolutionised the whole life and manners of the agricultural and artisan classes in England during the last two generations. Speaking generally and subject to certain reservations of detail, the Japanese peasant or artisan of to-day lives as he always Jived, inhabits the same sort of wood and paper house, eats the same light food, wears the same garments, goes about his daily avocations and his occasional amusements in the same manner.
The constantly increasing price of living weighs heavily on persons having small incomes or fixed salaries,—very heavily, for instance, on all the lower officials. If, nevertheless, the shops lack not customers, and the theatres, though expensive, are always crowded, the reason lies in the rapid development of a class hitherto unknown, an upper middle class of contractors, speculators, bankers, mine-owners, railway magnates. At its head stand such nouveaux riches as the Iwasakis, the Shibusawas, the Ōkuras, the Furukawas, for whom the feudal society of Old Japan would have had no place.
- For this and the other values mentioned, see p. 109.
- Part of this extraordinary rise is accounted for by the fact that the present article is a better and more luxurious one.