A Short Economic History of Modern Japan, 1867-1937

By G. C. Allen | Go to book overview

Chapter V
The Heavy Industries, Shipping, and Foreign Trade, 1881-1914

1. Metals, Mining and Engineering

Japan inherited a long tradition of skill in metal working as in textiles, and the products of her craftsmen, such as the sword makers, had enjoyed fame for centuries. But she found greater difficulty in adapting her metallurgical trades to Western technical methods than she did her textiles. This is not surprising. Countries in the early stages of modern industrialism have usually concentrated on the re-organization and development of their textile industries whatever their subsequent history may have been. The explanation is not hard to find. For economical production the metal and heavy engineering trades need more expensive capital equipment and more elaborate technical processes than the textile industries, and the scarcity of capital in "new" countries offers a handicap to development. Further, modern methods of metal manufacture differ greatly from traditional methods. They make heavy demands on scientific knowledge and trained technicians. Traditional aptitudes, therefore, provide a less satisfactory basis for these industries than for textile manufacture. Finally, unless a country offers a large market for a wide variety of metal goods and by-products, it is difficult for each of the special trades that fall within the metal groups to approximate to an optimum scale and so to work with a reasonable degree of economy. Japan suffered a further handicap in the major branch of metal production, namely the iron and steel trades, in that she was deficient both in iron ore and in good coking coal. When the industry began to appear in its modern form, it owed its rise to Government initiative, and for a long time its very existence depended on help from the State. It was in fact typical of those large-scale industries which were called into being by the Government's policy of building up manufacturing resources necessary for national power and security. Political necessity rather than economic advantage supplied the impulse.

In the early years of Meiji the home output of iron was limited to that produced from the sand-iron of the San-in district, and both this industry and the manufacture of finished iron goods suffered from the import of cheap Western products. In 1896 the home output of pig iron amounted

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