A Short Economic History of Modern Japan, 1867-1937

By G. C. Allen | Go to book overview

Chapter IV
Agriculture, Raw Silk, and the Textile Industries, 1881-1914

THE forces of change which had been released by the Restoration and strengthened by the deliberate policy of the Meiji Government affected in some measure every branch of agricultural, industrial and commercial life. But it would be wrong to imagirie that all parts of the Japanese economy were brought quickly under the direct influence of the West. For many years after 1868, and even up to the end of our period ( 1937), the changes in many branches of economic life were slow and often imperceptible. Some of the older industries, as we have seen, were damaged by the impact of foreign trade, and most of them had to adapt themselves in some degree to the new circumstances. Yet this did not prevent a substantial section of Japanese industry from preserving in essence its former character, nor indeed from developing upon lines not vastly different from those of the Tokugawa period. The preservation of the familiar, however, seldom attracts the attention excited by the appearance of the novel and the strange. It is natural therefore that what observers in the latter decades of the nineteenth century were inclined to stress was the rise of new industries and new forms of organization rather than the persistence of the old. These innovations were, in part, the result of the appearance of new wants among the Japanese public in consequence of Western influences. But they can also be attributed to the governmental policy of creating foreign-style industries and institutions such as were considered necessary for national power. The Japanese economy thus came to possess a curious dual character. Its foundations were formed by a peasant agriculture and a variety of small-scale manufacturing industries, many of which were peculiar to Japan. On these foundations was erected a superstructure of large-scale enterprise, a part of which owed its existence to political decisions. Much of the interest which attaches to modern Japanese history is associated with the comparative developments of these two divisions in her economy. Though distinct, they impinge upon one another at many points, and where the interests bound up with them come into conflict there results a social and political strain which has been the chief source of instability in modern Japan.1

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1
Cf. G. E. Hubbard, Eastern Industrialization and Its Effect on the West ( 2nd edition), pp. 35-6.

-56-

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