Modern History Sourcebook:
Records of My Visits to America and Europe, 1871-1873
Westerners think trade is the most important business in life, and this is why Asians
call their countries mercantile. Yet in fact a majority of their population are engaged in
agriculture, the rest chiefly in industry, and only five or six out of one hundred in
trade. It is simply inconceivable for the people of the East that not only merchants but
also farmers and manufacturers are interested in the exchange of goods, and that big
cities are eager to have merchants and trading vessels visit their ports. There are
businesses that are indispensable to trade and taken for granted at commercial centers
such as docks, markets, banking and exchange facilities, and chambers of commerce. These
simply do not exist in the Orient....In Japan there is, in contrast, general lack of
interest in trade and ignorance of the fact that the essence of trade is to mediate
between buying and selling and to transport goods to places which value them highly.
Possibilities for the further development of San Francisco seem limitless. It is a
matter of fact that whenever one place flourishes in trade it brings forth prosperity in a
corresponding place. London has been prosperous along with Paris, and these two cities
have in turn brought forth the prosperity of New York and Philadelphia. Now geographically
the ports that correspond to San Francisco in the East are Yokohama, Shanghai, and Hong
Kong.... But while San Francisco on the eastern shores of the Pacific has been thriving,
what can we say of the situation at the Japanese and Chinese ports on the western shores?
We Japanese must certainly reflect on these matters. San Francisco has taken advantage of
its favorable location and safe conditions of the bay. At the same time, it should be
noted that its land is vast and its population sparse, with the result that the demand for
manpower is enormous, both in industry and agriculture. The cost of labor is exorbitant.
As a result the manufacturing industry in San Francisco has been underdeveloped, and it
has been very costly to process timber, wool, leather, gold, and other kinds of metal.
Glassware, chinaware, blankets, hats, shoes, silver and copper trinkets, leather
instruments, lumber, and even salted fish are so expensive that they have had to be
imported from New York, Boston, and Philadelphia. These goods are shipped through the
Atlantic Ocean, the Gulf of Mexico, and the Isthmus of Panama. It is obviously much more
inconvenient to ship goods across such distances than to send them from Japan. Now it
happens that Japan as well as other countries of the Orient are endowed with natural
resources, where the population is large and labor cheap, in other words a situation the
exact opposite of San Francisco.
Thus it seems evident that trade between the Orient and San Francisco will serve to
lessen prices of commodities in the latter city and bring about prosperity to both.
California has large forests, but it imports wooden products from New York. It has a
thriving dairy industry, but it turns to New York for leather goods. It has a long coast
line, and yet buys salted fish from Canada. It is famous for mineral resources, and still
imports jewels from other States. The situation will remain the same even in the event
that California's population increases to one million; there still will be too much land
to be opened up, and the cost of labor will never begin to go down. Thus trade with the
Orient will not be confined to tea, silk, and tobacco. California's natural resources will
be limitless, and manufactured products will continue to be expensive. Are these things
not important for future trade? I sincerely hope that the reader will pay attention to
From: Kume Kunitake, Bei-O kairan jikki, 2 vols., trans. M. Iriye, (Tokyo,
1876), Vol. 1, pp. 72-82; reprinted in William H. McNeil and Mitsuko Iriye, eds., Modern
Asia and Africa, Readings in World History Vol. 9, (New York: Oxford University Press,
1971), pp. 141-143.
Scanned by Jerome S. Arkenberg, Cal. State Fullerton. The text has been modernized by
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© Paul Halsall, October 1998