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IS JAPANESE COMPETITION A MYTH ?
BY THE HON ROBERT P. PORTER.
What is Japanese progress and Japanese competition? You hear the question asked on all sides since the war with China, and the answers take as wide a range as the accounts of eyewitnesses of the battles and sieges of the conflict itself. Some say there is nothing in Japanese competition; that it is but a new bogie of the American Protectionist, stuffed with straw on the Pacific Coast, and carried eastward to terrify the American artisan, and induce him to come into line for the Republican ticket next fall. There are others who say that this Japanese, or, rather Asiatic, competition scare has its origin in London ; that it was set agoing there by the Manchester bimetallists, who believe the cotton mills of India, of China, and of Japan are going to rob England of 400,000,000 Asiatic customers for its cotton yarns and cotton cloth; that the object of the scare is to induce the British government to adopt a more liberal policy on the silver question, and thereby take away the protection which these silver-using countries practically have against the gold-standard countries of Europe.
There are yet others who, having no definite facts to guide them, have reserved all opinions on the subject until inquiry into existing facts can be made and the truth established. In the United States little attention has been given the question except by representatives of branches of business that have suddenly been confronted with a competition from Japan that has thrown all calculations to the winds and for the moment paralyzed prosperous industry. So far these incidents have been confined, as I shall show, to the textile trades and to some special manufactures, such as floor matting, hempen and jute rugs, umbrellas, matches, brushes, especially tooth-brushes, some lines of porcelain and
earthenware, straw plaits and braids, paper of various kinds, and other miscellaneous articles. It is not so much the quantities of these articles exported to the United States that has given alarm, but the sudden manner in which the Japanese have, metaphorically speaking, thrown their hats into the American market, and challenged our labor and capital with goods which, for excellence and cheapness, seem for the moment to defy competition, even with the latest labor-saving appliances at hand.
Those who have any doubt as to the reality of Japanese competition should glance at the windows of our leading carpet and upholstery establishments. There they will find, during these summer months, large quantities and infinite variety of coollooking mattings and blue and white cotton rugs from Japan. A reference to the advertising columns of newspapers in the leading cities shows that these goods have been the specialties of the season and have been sold in enormous quantities. Daring this same season, whole windows in our popular drygoods houses have been devoted to most attractive Japanese cotton crapes, in colors as delicate as rainbow hues, at ten and twelve cents per yard. The silk departments of the same stores exhibit a tempting array of their summer silks, or habutai, as it is called in Japan, at such phenomenally low prices that the American silk manufacturer is pushed out of the market. In the early days of missionary work, the good Mrs. Jellybys used to hem moral pocket handkerchiefs for the little heathen. To-day the heathen Japanese have turned the tables on the Christian nations and cornered the world's market for silk handkerchiefs, exporting within the last few years 100,000,000 of these useful articles. Look at that big pile of tooth-brushes in the window of the corner drug store. Sometimes they are sold for ten cents each, sometimes given away with a twenty-five cent box of toothpowder. These brushes are made in Japan. An Osaka firm offered me the product of their factories for $1.50 (gold) per gross. At this price some of our enterprising metropolitan newspapers will soon be offering a brand-new tooth-brush free with every copy of their morning journals. Five dollars gold will purchase a gross of hair-brushes, and I obtained samples of an infinite variety of nailbrushes and shaving-brushes at prices equally low. It may be urged that the quality of these cheap goods is poor. That is true, but the Japanese, while making at this price, are also
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making at $8 gold per gross a superior grade of tooth-brush for which we pay forty and fifty cents apiece at a fashionable drug store.
But what of all this? Suppose we admit the facts, the articles mentioned are small, and the total not so very large when compared with our total importations from abroad. To be sure, the articles are comparatively unimportant, but they are staple. Matches are a small article, but last year Japan exported, mostly to China, nearly five million dollars' worth, and this year her export of this small article will probably exceed that figure. Their safety matches can be bought for fourteen silver dollars, or, say, $7.50 gold for 7,200 boxes. Can Sweden compete at this price ? Can the United States ? It is doubtful.
Viewed as a whole, the foreign trade of Japan is not inconsequential. An increase of $30,000,000 of commerce in 1895 over 1894 is no small item for a country like Japan. The total exports and imports, including bullion, reached $296,000,000 in silver in 1895, and will exceed those figures this year. That we may know the exact bearing of this increased trade on American manufactures and labor, I have prepared a table giving the increase in the export of certain commodities from Japan between 1885 and 1895. It may be studied with profit by those interested, for it tells the story just as it is, and when that is done, the reader may arrive at his own conclusion :
TOTAL COMMERCE OF JAPAN, 1885 AND 1895. Total exports and imports, 1895
$218,700,000 This would seem to be a fairly gratifying increase-about threefold.
In the following table I have endeavored to group some of the more striking individual increases in the export trade of Japan for the period under discussion:
Value in Silver Dollars. Export of textiles of all kinds...
$511,990 $22,177,626 Raw silk...
14,473,396 50,928,440 Grains and provisions..
4,514,843 12,723,771 Metal goods..::
2,112,997 6,538,220 Drugs, including sulphur and camphor.
1,089,513 3,078,357 Books and paper...
6,854,120 8,879,242 Matches..
60,565 4,672,861 Straw braids
.(no record of any) 1,387,643 Matting...
3,461,369 Umbrellas (European)
785,207 Porcelain curios and sundries.
2,786, 876 11,624,701
Within the last few months I have visited the districts in Japan and inspected the industries reported in the above table. The increase in the exports of textiles, which was over fortyfold in ten years, is due to the fact that Japan is a nation of weavers. The returns of 1895 show 'over one million weavers. Women weave in Japan as women sew with us. It is no exaggeration to say that in nearly every house in rural Japan the spinning wheel and loom are kept going from morning till night. It is impossible to gauge the capacity of these people in this industry by the present production. In some of the silk districts, I found modern machinery and even regularly equipped mills, employing from five hundred to a thousand hands.. As a rule, the factories range from 40 to 120 hands, with the products of thousands of houses with single looms to draw from for the demand. In Fukui, the most important exporting district, the greater part of the weaving is done in the homes, though the establishment of fin. ishing houses makes it possible for the weaver to secure a uniformity of finish that the old method precluded. The exports of all grades of silk goods from Japan will be largely increased in the next decade, and this fact has been recognized by the French, who propose to put a duty on Japanese habutai. Nor will the conflict be confined to habutai alone, for the Japanese are awake to the fact that France leads the world in the originality and beauty of her textile designs. They have in the Kyoto district reproduced her moire antique with success The splendid silk stuff they are making for furniture covering may be seen in the brilliant effects of the French renaissance.
The Japanese are making every preparation, by the formation of guilds and associations, to improve the quality and increase the uniformity of their goods. It is well to note in this connection that while Japan has stimulated its exports of the manufactured article, it has enormously increased the production and export of raw silk. This has been done by the introduction of new methods and a more scientific treatment of the silkworm and the filature. I visited in Japan filature establishments equal to any I saw in France ten years ago when investigating the silk industry of that country. In the Fukui district the first silk habutai was manufactured in 1888, an aggregation of about $50,000. Last year this district produced $6,076,220 worth, and the present year, I am told, the output will be still larger.
In the spinning of cotton and the manufacture of cotton cloth, a still more phenomenal progress is noted, though not shown in the above table. The export of cotton cloth from Japan probably does not exceed $5,000,000, but it supplies a large and increasing home demand. Last year the value of the silk and cotton cloth produced in Japan, including such important articles as kimono stuff and obi fabric, was $71,350,747. Cotton spinning in 1889 gave employment to only 5,394 women and 2,539 men.
In 1895, over 30,000 women and 10,000 men were employed in mills that for equipment and output are equal to those of any country. The future situs of the cotton industry, at least to supply the Asiatic trade, is bound to be in China and Japan. England is doomed so far as this trade is concerned and nothing can save her—not even bimetallism, as some imagine. Cotton mills are going up rapidly, both in Osaka and Shanghai, and only actual experience for a period of years will demonstrate which of these locations is the better. My own judgment, after a close examination of every item in the cost of production, is Japan. In this contest for the cotton trade of Asia, the United States must supply more and more of the raw cotton. The improvement in the number of the yarn spun and in the quality of the cloth woven simpiy means a larger proportion of American cotton. Two new lines of Japanese steamships have been projected this year, and these ships are to run between the United States and Japan. While Osaka is the center of the cotton-yarn industry, the flourishing city of Nagoya is the center of cotton-cloth manufacture. Here I found several mills turning out a great variety of goods, mostly for home consumption. The export of $50,000,000 of cotton cloth to China and Korea will be no great achieyment for Japan before the close of the century.
The district of Japan best worth studying from an industrial point of view is undoubtedly that around the Bay of Osaka, including the cities of Hyogo, Kyoto, and Osaka, and aggregating a population of 3,750,000. Here the mighty city growing up at the head of the Inland Seas can draw its supply of cheap labor. Within a hundred miles north and south, Osaka and the great commercial port of Kobe have a population of over 16,000,000, and within this radius may be found (excepting Tokyo and Yokohama) all the large cities of Japan. Cross the bay, only sixty miles away, and you have the island of Shikoku with 3,000,