Web Text-ures Logo
Web and Book design,
Copyright, Kellscraft Studio

(Return to Web Text-ures)
Click Here to return to
Yedo and Peking
Content Page

 Return to the Previous Chapter
Kellscraft Studio Logo


Other productions of Japan — Silk, tea, &c. — Silk country — Value of silk — Tea districts — Curious statements on tea cultivation — Value of exports from Kanagawa in 1860-61 — Means of increasing the supplies Of silk and tea — Prospects on the opening of the new ports — Japanese objections to the opening — The Tycoon's letter to the Queen — Ministers' letter to Mr. Alcock — Their recommendations considered — Danger of opening Yedo at present — Remarks on the other ports — Trade probably overrated — Japanese merchants compared with Chinese — Prejudices against traders in Japan — Foreign officials and these prejudices — War with Japan not improbable.

IN addition to the agricultural productions which I have just described, there are many other articles in the country "pleasant to the sight and good for food," which are worthy of attention now that the Japanese have entered into the great family of nations. Perhaps no country in the world is more independent of other countries than Japan. She has, within herself, enough to supply all the wants and luxuries of life. The productions of the tropics, as well as those of temperate regions, are found in her fields and gathered into her barns. Wherever there are mountain ranges, coal, lead, iron, and copper are found, and not unfrequently the precious metals. Tea, silk, cotton, vegetable wax, and oils are produced in abundance all over the country. Ginseng and other medicines, with salt fish and seaweed, are largely exported to China.

Silk and tea are, at present, the most important and valuable articles of export to Europe and America. I am indebted to Mr. Keswick, of the well-known house of Messrs. Jardine, Matheson, and Co., one of the earliest settlers at Yokuhama, for the following information regarding these articles of export. As Mr. Keswick was daily in communication with merchants from all parts of the country, and as he had considerable knowledge of the language, his means of acquiring information of this kind were greatly superior to my own. "Silk is more or less produced in almost every province of the island of Nipon north of Osaca, but the four districts in which it is found in the greatest abundance are Oshue, Joeshue, Koshue, and Sinshue. Oshue produces the largest quantity, but the silk does not equal in quality and fineness of size that of the other districts. Joeshue and Sinshue are noted for the fine size of their silk; and even in the London market, when the best China silk was selling at 25s., it brought as high a price as 30s. per lb." These districts are situated in the northern part of the island of Nipon, and I believe are nearer to the port of Hakodadi than to Yokuhama. Japanese silk is more carefully reeled than Chinese, and is generally of better quality. At present it is nearly all bought for the Continent, and much more would be consumed if it could be obtained.

"Tea is produced, or grows wild, in all the provinces of the island of Kiu-siu, and throughout the greater part of Nipon. The finest qualities come from Ya-mu-si-ro, but the two largest producing districts are Isay and Owari. Suringa, Simosa, and Koshue are the provinces which supply the Kanagawa market with the earliest new tea; but as the season advances, large supplies arrive from the districts bordering on the Inland Sea."

The tea-plant is said to have been introduced into Japan from China about the beginning of the ninth century by a Buddhist priest named Yeitsin, who presented the first cup of the beverage to the reigning Mikado. It is now constantly observed on the sides of the roads, and in the gardens of the farmers and cottagers, who appear, in many instances, to cultivate only as much as will supply the wants of their families. I met with it in this way about Nagasaki and Kanagawa, and in larger quantities in the vicinity of the capital. There can be no doubt, I think, that the great tea districts of Japan are in the country near Osaca and Miaco, the residence of the Mikado. Should this prove correct, then the new port of Hiogo, in the Inland Sea, or some place in its vicinity, may, one day, prove of considerable value to our merchants.

Curious and almost romantic statements have been published regarding the mode of cultivating the tea-plant in Japan, —statements which, I am afraid, are more curious than truthful. Take the following as an example: "The plantations are situated remote from the habitations of man, and as much as may be from all other crops, lest the delicacy of the tea should suffer from smoke, impurity, or contamination of any kind. They are manured with dried anchovies and a liquor pressed out of mustard-seed. They must enjoy the unobstructed beams of the morning sun, and thrive best upon well-watered hill-sides. The plant is pollarded to render it more branching, and therefore more productive, and must be five years old before the leaves are gathered."(!) How our worthy tea-farmers in Japan and China would laugh if they were told that such things were written about their mode of cultivating the tea-plant!

Such statements remind me of reading, in a book upon China, an account of rice cultivation, in which the writer cannot understand the practice of sowing the rice-seeds very thickly in highly-manured beds in the corners of the fields. He sagely concludes that it must be upon the principle of "the more the merrier"! It never occurred to his mind that these are merely seedbeds, where the plants are being reared for the purpose of transplanting, and that he may see the same kind of practice in any cabbage-garden in England. And the readers of the remarks on tea-cultivation quoted above may rest assured that that useful plant may be cultivated successfully, although not remote from the habitations of man, or manured with dried anchovies and mustard-seed oil. I may perhaps be pardoned for referring those interested in the matter to my 'Three Years' Wanderings in China' and 'Journey to the Tea Countries,' where the cultivation and manufacture of tea have been fully described from personal observation.

From a return made out by Consul Vyse and presented to Parliament, it appears that the value of the raw silk and silk manufactures exported from Kanagawa during the year ending the 31st December, 1860, was 548,630l. 13s. 4d. The value of tea exported during the same period was 64,260l. 16s. 8d. The total value of the exports from this port in 1860 amounted to 865,200l., the principal articles besides silk and tea being copper, oil, and seeds, dried fish, seaweed, medicine, vegetable wax, and lacquer-ware.

One of the merchants, in a letter to H. B. Majesty's Consul, dated August 8th, 1861, remarks, "In point of value the business transacted at this port during the first six months of 1861 far exceeds what was transacted during the same period of 1860. * * * To show you that there has been a rapid development of the export trade, I need only state that from July, 1859, to July, 1860, the export of silk was about 5000 bales; from July, 1860, to July, 1861, it was 12,000 bales. Of tea, from July, 1859, to July, 1860, there are no statistics, but the export was a mere trifle; whereas, from July, 1860, to July, 1861, it amounted to near 5,000,000 lbs. Such figures as these place the growing nature of our trade, and its importance, beyond question, and require no comment."

From my own observations in different parts of the country, I am fully convinced that the Japanese have the means of producing an almost unlimited supply of both these staple articles of export, and more particularly of tea. Thousands of acres of valuable land, on which the tea-plant would yield an abundant crop of leaves, are now lying waste, or in an unproductive condition. We may, therefore, look forward with confidence to increased supplies of tea from Japan, and also, I hope, to an improvement in their manipulation, and consequently in their flavour.

When the other ports and cities named in the treaty are opened to foreign trade, there will be a large increase in the value of both exports and imports. But the Japanese authorities are making great exertions to put off, what appears to them to be, "the evil day." The Tycoon himself has written a letter to Her Majesty the Queen of Great Britain, in which he states, "there are various objections that the Article of the Treaty providing for the opening of the ports of Hiogo and Ne-egata, and for the carrying on of trade in the cities of Yedo and Osaca, should be brought into operation on the conditions stated therein;" and he desires, therefore, "to defer the opening of these places for a time." The Ministers for Foreign Affairs, also, have addressed Mr. Alcock upon the same subject. They begin by stating that nearly three hundred years have elapsed since the empire discontinued its intercourse with Foreign Powers; that recently, in consequence of the urgent advice of the President of the United States and of the King of the Netherlands, this old-standing law was altered, and foreign vessels, sailing near the coasts, were allowed to put in at the ports of Simoda and Hakodadi for fuel, provisions, and water. Again, after the arrival of the American Minister, the Government, having taken into consideration "the existing posture of foreign affairs," concluded the treaty of amity which lately entered into operation, and established free-trade in the same manner, first with Great Britain, &c. But the actual result of this proceeding differed considerably from what had been anticipated. "No profit has yet been derived; but the lower classes of the people have already suffered loss thereby." The price of things is daily increasing, in consequence of the large quantity of products which are exported to foreign countries; and the people, when deprived of the means of gaining their livelihood, ascribe the cause to trade and are discontented. Even the wealthier classes, it is hinted, are likely to condemn the abrogation of the previously existing prohibition, and may desire the restitution of the former law. This being the result of opening two or three ports to foreign trade, every one is grieved when he reads the stipulations of the treaty, which state that the ports of Hiogo and Ne-egata are to be opened, and that foreign trade will also be carried on at the cities of Yedo and Osaca, by which the loss and the injury will be still further increased.

The Ministers further state that "the popular spirit having already arrived at such a pitch, it is very difficult even for the power and the authority of the Government so to manage that each one should clearly understand the future advantage, and to cause them to endure for a time the present grief." Should the Government use violence in carrying out the stipulations of the treaty, "it would be uncertain what mischief would result from such an act against the national spirit."

In order, therefore, not to press too heavily upon the people, and to give time to the ignorant to accustom themselves to free-trade, and to feel its benefits, the Ministers propose to defer the opening of the two ports1 and two cities for the space of seven years, and to agree that they shall be opened in 1868.

The document, of which I have just given the substance, is an able one, and demands most careful attention from the Governments of foreign powers who have treaties with Japan. As a general rule it is bad policy to waive any treaty-right with Orientals, as, in the case of China and the question of our being allowed to enter the city of Canton, such a proceeding may plunge us into future and expensive wars. But the Japanese question is a peculiar one. The Government evidently felt it had committed a mistake when agreed to the treaty, and would now gladly return to the old state of things. As its experience of foreigners had been confined to the Dutch at Desima, who had carried on their trade in one or two ships a year, it had no idea that merchants with large capitals would come in such numbers, and that fleets of ships would arrive to carry off the produce of the country. And the statements the Ministers now made were perfectly true; provisions had increased in price; the people were getting discontented, attributing the rise in prices to the presence and action of foreigners, and not understanding or caring for free-trade and its future benefits. In this state of things it is not at all unlikely that, if the opening of the new ports were pressed, a rebellion might take place which the Government would not have the power to put down.

There may be a difference of opinion as to the propriety of agreeing to defer the opening of Hiogo and Osaca, with another port on the west coast instead of Ne-egata, but, I think, all who have studied the matter must agree as to the necessity of not pressing, at present at least, the opening of Yedo. I believe, even if it were agreed to by the Government, it would be attended with the greatest danger. I have already shown the character of the population that crowds the streets of this city, — idle retainers from all parts of the country, full of prejudice against foreigners, always armed with sharp swords) and ready to use them upon the slightest provocation, or with no provocation at all. Against these men and their masters the Government itself would seem to be almost powerless. "Both the American treaties were inaugurated by the death of the reigning Tycoon who signed or sanctioned them, the first by the sword and the second -by poison. One of the royal brothers was deposed and exiled, and the Regent of the kingdom was slain in revenge for this act by the Prince of Mito's followers."2

A city like this would, therefore, be a most unsafe place for a number of foreigners, full of life and high spirits, with customs and manners very different from those of the Japanese, and which the latter, oftentimes, can neither understand nor appreciate. In such a place life and property would always be insecure, and it is not unlikely that, sooner or later, a general massacre might be attempted. With these things before our eyes, — believing the Government to be anxious for our safety, but to be almost powerless, feeling its weakness and dreading the future, are we prepared to incur the risk of opening Yedo, or to punish the Government if it fails to protect us? It seems idle to talk of holding the Government responsible for our safely in a country where it is so weak as not to be able to protect itself. Taking, therefore, into consideration the dangers attending the opening of Yedo to foreign merchants, and the fact that we have already a port of trade within a few miles of it to which its produce can be easily brought, where we can reside and trade in comparative security, I think it will be wise to waive our right to the opening of that city, at least for the present.

It seems doubtful, however, whether we should also give way to the proposal of deferring the opening of Hiogo and Osaca, in the Inland Sea, as also of a port on the west coast, should a suitable one be found there, to take the place of Ne-egata. Although the ignorance and prejudices of the people may be as great against us in these places as at Yedo, yet the same dangers to life and property are certainly not so apparent. And if it be worth our while to have a footing in these places at all, it is almost certain that the difficulties in our way will be as great seven years hence as they are at the present time. We might, therefore, meet the Japanese Government half-way, by insisting that the provisions of the treaty be carried out in so far as these places are concerned, while we waived, for the present, our right of residing and trading in the capital itself.

But it seems doubtful whether the Tycoon's Government has the power to ratify the treaties made with foreign nations without the sanction of the Mikado; and this high and mysterious personage, it is suspected, has not yet given such sanction. The following note on this subject has just appeared in the 'China Mail,' and is worth attentive perusal: —

"It is well known now that the Mikado has not yet given his formal consent to the treaties made with the Foreign Powers, and it must be evident that without his consent those treaties have no legal value in the eyes of the Japanese princes and people. This, then, is the root of all the recent troubles. This is the reason why the Tycoon's Government is not able to defend our Ministers and us, and is hardly able to defend itself, from the attacks of the malcontents who seek its embarrassment or our expulsion. This is why it does not and dare not punish those assassins who from time to time cut unoffending foreigners to pieces in the open streets, or in the very teeth of the native guard and at the door of the British Minister. This is why it endeavours to restrict our trade and to make its further pursuit uninviting. This is why it refused to open Yedo last January, and is reluctant to open Osaca next January. This is why we are desired to retire to Nagasaki, where foreign trade has long been established, and are offered there the facilities denied us here (Yedo). In short, this is why there is no peace or friendship for foreigners in this part of Japan, and why neither our political nor our commercial relations with this people are what they ought to be. It is not pretended that the Tycoon's Government is implicated in the numerous crimes which have marked with tracks of blood the history of our three years' relations with Japan. Doubtless this Government deplores those crimes as sincerely as any one. But it is powerless to prevent them; and for this plain reason — that it has not yet been able to abolish one of the laws of Gongen-Sama, in virtue of which licence is given to slay foreigners wherever they may be found. It is, then, useless for us to wait here with our lives in our hands while the Tycoon slowly gathers from our trade, and from his own enterprises, the means and the power to overcome these laws, and to redeem his promises to us. Either we must leave the country, or we must obtain from the only ruler who is supreme in it the full ratification of the rights and privileges we came here to enjoy: There is no middle course. Compromises, postponements, concessions, all half-measures, are of no avail in this matter. I repeat, therefore, that the alternative is either to have the treaties recognised by the real Government of the empire, or to abandon them as worthless, and depart from a country where we are unwelcome and unsafe."

As a place of trade, Japan, with all its advantages, has been probably overrated, particularly as a mart for our manufactures. There is no doubt, however, that it can supply us with large quantities of silk and tea, and thus render us less dependent on China for those articles which have now become indispensable to our happiness and comfort. But as a customer to our manufacturing districts, Japan will never be equal to China.

As merchants, too, the Chinese appear to be far ahead of the Japanese. While a Japanese would be haggling for a few cash on a hank of silk or a pound of tea, a Chinaman would be quietly settling for a ship-load of the same articles. Experience has also shown that the Chinese trader is more to be depended upon than the Japanese. Indeed, as merchants of honour and talent, I doubt if the former are to be excelled in any part of the world. That pithy little sentence which concludes a bargain, "put-e-book," or "book it," is considered as binding as if it was registered by 'the Bank of England; and rarely indeed will a Chinaman recede from his bargain, even if its fulfilment should involve him in an unfortunate speculation. At present this cannot be said of the Japanese; but they may probably improve when they become better acquainted with foreigners, and when others, now in the background, come into the field.

Traders in Japan, however wealthy or intelligent, are looked down upon with disdain by the merest serf of the Daimios; and the merchants of foreign countries are treated much in the same way. This state of things will not surprise any one acquainted with the history of our own country in the feudal ages. Every one doubtless remembers the wrath of Rob Roy when Bailie Nicol Jarvie good-naturedly proposes to take his sons "for prentices at the loom, as I began mysel, and my father the deacon before me." "'Ceade millia diaoul! hundred thousand devils!' exclaimed Rob, rising and striding through the hut. 'My sons weavers! Millia molligheart! but I wad see every loom in Glasgow — beam, treddles, and shuttles — burnt in hell-fire sooner! ' " The Japanese of the present day resemble, in many ways, the Scottish Highlanders in the days before the famous '45.

It is to be feared that foreign officials, desirous of not being confounded with the inferior orders of their countrymen, do not contribute in any way to lessen this feeling, but, on the contrary, oftentimes give it a kind of official sanction. This is unfortunate, but I fear it is too true. It will scarcely be credited in a country like England, where our merchants and sons of merchants occupy some of the highest positions in the kingdom, and where any one who took it into his head to act in such a manner would only be laughed at for his pains. But things are done in a different way in Japan.

With all our care in opening up this trade, it is much to be feared that a time may come, and that it is not very distant, when Japan will have to pay dearly for her former exclusive policy. As a nation we have an abhorrence of war and all its attendant horrors, but somehow or other — owing, no doubt, partly to our wide-spread dominions and to our extensive commerce — we have war always forced upon us against our inclinations; and that this will be one of the results of our new treaty with Japan, there is, as I have already said, but too much reason to anticipate.

1 Ne-egata is found to be useless as a port, and another will be chosen.

2 Mr. Alcock's despatch to Earl Russell.

Book Chapter Logo Click the book image to turn to the next Chapter.