Western Enterprise in Far Eastern Economic Development: China and Japan

By G. C. Allen; Audrey G. Donnithorne | Go to book overview

CHAPTER XII THE WESTERN MERCHANT IN JAPAN

THE discussion of Japan's response to the Western impact has shown that, while the Westerners had a more narrowly restricted rôle in that country's economic development than in China's, it would be wrong to infer that they were deprived of opportunities for displaying their entrepreneurial skill. It is true that some of the foreigners who came to Japan, both in the early years of Meiji and in later times, were merely salaried employees of the Government or of large Japanese concerns. Yet there were others who could justly claim to have been responsible for introducing many new forms of economic activity. The foreign merchants had a particularly well-founded fight to this claim. It was through them that Japan was exposed to the vitalising effects of international trade, consumers given access to foreign sources of supply, and producers brought into contact with foreign markets. If the developmerit of the strategic industries and basic services was the outcome of a well-executed official design, the inception of other new industries and the expansion of many old ones occurred largely as a response to the opportunities of which the Japanese first became aware through foreign mercantile enterprise. There was thus an extensive area in which foreign merchants rather than the Government were the chief instruments of modernisation, and their imprint was clearly stamped on the Japanese economy of the last half of the nineteenth century.

At the end of the Tokugawa era Japan had g fairly substantial internal trade, organised with considerable elaboration, and there were a few Business houses skilled in the conduct of domestic finance and commerce. Yet experience in the technique of foreign trade and acquaintance with foreign markets and sources of supply were almost wholly lacking. It was natural, therefore, that at the outset foreign firms should monopolise the import and export trades. Techniques and commercial information, however, can easily be acquired, and it might have been expected that tiffs foreign dominance would have been shortlived. In fact, it lasted until the end of the century, and even as late as the 1930's foreign merchant houses were still important, although they had long lost their lead. The explanation is that success in commerce depends not merely upon technical competence but also upon the power to win and hold the confidence of suppliers and customers--a power that a new-comer only gradually acquires. Foreign merchants, many of

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