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La Révolution Industrielle des Régions du Japon Review


Meiji industrialization in Japan was an unprecedented event, as the first non-European or European-descended country to industrialize and modernize. Much of the discussion of how this occurred is based upon actions taken by the Japanese central government, or developments from the center, such as the rise of the centralized Zaibatsu. Nakamura Naofumi's book La Révolution industrielle des régions du Japon focuses rather on the regions outside of the major cities, and proposes that much of the impetus for the development of Japanese industrialism came from the provinces in the 1880s, when local notables and businesses helped lead the way in setting up regional industries in Japan. Nakamura's book analyzes this via a look at the general development of Japanese ideology and the structures of Japanese capitalism, before looking at specific examples such as the North-Eastern Rail Line in Iwate, local industrial developments in Fukuoka, Miike coal mines, and Tokyo's electrification as the book shifts to look at the "era of cities." All of this has a tremendous amount of detail and a huge number of charts and other statistics marshaled in support of the book.

The Miike coal mines would grow to be one of the most important coal mining regions of Japan despite its periphery location.

The Miike coal mines would grow to be one of the most important coal mining regions of Japan despite its periphery location.

But the basic point that it endeavors so much to prove, that the Japanese periphery and rural regions had their own role to play in Japanese industrialization, is a crusade in search of a target. Yes, Zaibatsu did play an important role at the Japanese central level in Japanese industrialization, and the Meiji government clearly had policies which encouraged Japanese industrialization - but it also seems fairly obvious that in any nation, not everything happens in the capital.

Even if its central theme is rather one of jousting at windmills, there is still plenty of good information about certain sectors of Japanese industrial development. This comes out particularly well in its chapter on the creation of Tokyo's electrical industry, although this as a whole is at odds with the rest of the book - focusing on the provinces, it abruptly shifts to Tokyo. But it has a great deal of excellent information about how the Japanese electrical companies effectively utilized new technology, expanding mass markets, and the battle between coal fired electrical plants and hydro electric plants, to electrify Tokyo.

Previous chapters also do manage to provide plenty of niche information about certain subjects, such as the development of Japanese rail lines and their relationship to the wood industry. And while the book seems like it overstates the case of Japanese industrial development being overwhelmingly directed from the center, it does help to illustrate the process in the provinces of local businessmen and notables being able to communicate and talk to each other face to face and how this was a key element of kickstarting industrial development. By contrast, cities were a center of anonymous relations without the deeply personal connections that provided for trust and communication in the countryside and provided the framework for industrial development.

Nakamura's book focuses on precise details and case studies, and this makes it difficult for the general reader to grasp the general development of the Japanese economy. But it does have a commendable amount of detail, shown by this examination of Japanese rail, mining, and electricity industries, and while its main thread often gets lost in the detail, for neophytes interested in Japanese economic development it helps to provide an idea of how the field is viewed with its focus on Meiji centralization, and for more expert readers it has a rich amount of information on specific parts of economic development.

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