Memoirs of Robert Dollar
Vol. 1 - Chapter Eleven. Personal Comments on Japan
following is an exact copy of a letter that I sent our San Francisco
office while on this trip. It will serve to show the great change that
has come over Japan during the past eight years.
Osaka. Japan, November 15, 1908.
next day Saturday, it was raining, making it disagreeable to get around.
However, a great many of our party visited the Stock Exchange and Mint,
where a special cash medal commemorative of then visit was presented to
each. Unfortunately, I was laid up with a terrible cold. Many of the
factories were visited. This city is the manufacturing center of Japan.
In certain lines there is more doing in Osaka than all the rest of Japan
put together, principally in cotton. They also supply the whole. Orient
with matches, but every manufacture is represented here.
have built a good breakwater, taking in ground enough to make a very
large harbor, but it all requires to be dredged out, and while they are
working at it, it is on a very small scale on account of the lack of
money. Taxation is so high that they are practicing economy in
everything, and work is cut down all along the line. It is most
unfortunate that such an important and necessary work should lag. There
is water enough for a few ships of deep draft; you will recollect before
the war that the steamer "Stanley Dollar" took a full cargo of barley
here. There is no reason why Osaka should not eclipse and take most of
the trade from Kobe ("twenty miles distant) as Osaka is where the raw
material is destined. They bought over thirty million dollars worth of
raw cotton last year. The manufactured articles are shipped out
principally to China, but. a good deal goes to our country. So Osaka
should and will be the principal seaport of Japan in time.
are very well situated to handle freight. The whole city is a series of
canals and the lighter goes directly to, or from, the factory and
warehouses, two men moving one hundred tons by poling the boats as easy
as one ton can be moved in our city, and hundreds of tons will be moved
at half the cost we can move one ton. It occurred to me what a pity* it
is that our Channel Creek has not been extended and an outlet to the Bay
made near the Union Iron Works, thereby giving us great facilities for
warehousing and handling freight. It looks to be a great disadvantage in
the Orient that our big steamers have no wharves to go to, but when we
consider the quick dispatch we get from the multitude of lighters which
come alongside, and then consider that those lighters take the freight
right to where it is wanted without handling, t is easy to see the great
advantage this system has over discharging at a wharf and hauling at
heavy expense everything from there to the factory or warehouse.
city is a great hive of industry, and when we consider that the very
highest paid mechanic only gets 75c gold a day and girls from 10c up to
25c, it is no wonder that they are able to work up an enormous trade,
and they will hold it, too. To be sure, since ten years ago, wages have
doubled, but they can still take a further jump before they come in
competition with our high paid labor. So to compete we must look to
branches of manufacturing where labor does not count but where machinery
takes the place of labor. Then again the Japanese are in every country
in the world looking for improved machinery and ways of bettering their
manufacturing. So it is not an easy matter to foresee what changes are
going to take place.
thing that is grinding down Japan is the very high taxes they are
groaning under to pay their war debt interest. It is certainly a
terrible load they are staggering under. This has raised the price of
living, they claim, 10 per cent in the past two years. However, the poor
people get on with very little rice and fish, a little calico, wooden
shoes and bare heads. Most of the good rice is exported, and inferior,
cheap rice is imported.1
are paying great attention to education. I notice many large schools
have been built since my last visit, and as education is compulsory all
the younger generation is m school and a very large number are learning
left Osaka in the evening, on the electric cars, and had a great ovation
at every station along the road. We only stopped at a very few, but the
crowds were there all the same. At Kobe, the Governor of Hiogo, the
Mayor and civic authorities met us at the station and welcomed us to
their city. The native city was decorated, but not nearly as well as any
other place we visited. There were crowds on the streets and a great
crowd at the station, but in the foreign part of the town there were no
signs of welcome of any description. So it was very plain, as far as the
et ah, were concerned, we were not wanted. In
nan gratae, and in conversation later on I
found they threw cold water on our reception, and said the Japanese were
not glad to see us, that we were not welcome, and that out of courtesy
the Japanese were keeping up appearances. etc., etc.
However, there were enough old men amongst our number who had seen lots
of the world and no people could deceive us for any length of time, and
no one can make me believe that the common pec pie of Japan are not in
dead earnest; and the merchants are to be so greatly benefited by our
friendship that they can't help but be friendly, but there is no
influence or interest that would make the working classes friendly to us
except clearly out of their hearts. At all events nothing could convince
us to the contrary, and our visit through the country has stirred up
more good feeling than if our country' had sent a half do/en fleets, and
I think it a very good sign that the Europeans did not take kindly to
our visit, as they fear to be hurt by the after results, which I for one
feel sure will be greatly to the benefit of our nation. So I think the
money we have expended will be the best investment we have ever made for
day the Nippon Yusen Kaisha fitted out one of its best steamers and
invited the prominent Japanese of Osaka and Kobe (I think there were
probably two hundred and fifty on board) to accompany our party on a
trip, They steamed down the Inland Sea and back; had a great banquet,
brass band, and everything that would add to our comfort and enjoyment.
We had a splendid time and with all, a very profitable one, as we had
plenty of time to get acquainted with the carious gentlemen, and much
benefit was derived from a free exchange of views. In my line I had some
interesting talks with the general managers of the Nippon Yusen Kaisha,
Mr. Kondo and Mr. Harada: also Mr. Kafuka of the Osaka Shosen Kaisha who
are building five steamers for the Puget Sound, Milwaukee & St. Paul
route. They have to commence next May and won't be ready, so are
chartering steamers in England to fill in until their own are completed.
The Kawsawak- Dock Company built two, and the Mitsui Bishi Company at
Nagasaki three; one or more are turbines, but they will only do about
thirteen knotseconomical steamers.
are all very much troubled over the action of the Interstate Commerce
Commission, as they don't know where they stand, as the proportion they
will get for the steamer haul will be only $2.00 a ton measurement on
matting Everything else is in about the same proportion. This is
impracticable, but I told them I could not see why Jim Hill and the
Pacific Mail could not carry for nothing and get the pay out of the rail
haul, and then they would have as much as before, but the Japanese
immediately asked. "Where do we get off on a deal of that kind?" I
replied, "You are only getting half of what you got before and the
railroads are getting more than they ever hail;" so there is a great
uncertainty of commerce. They fall back on the subsidy. but that won't
run their vessels alone. The builders' subsidy is not as good as it
appears, as they have to import all the steel and pay 25% ad valorem
duty on it. This cuts quite a hole in the builder's bonus. The subsidy
figures out as follows: Say on a 7000-toii dead weight steamer,
estimating her gross measurement at four thousand tons:
Builder's Bonus 10-Knot Boat- Gold Dollars
tons, 4000 @
Engines say 1500 L. H. P. @ $2 50............ 3,750.00
shipbuilder would have to pay in duty approximately $20,000.00.
steamer of the above size on the round trip run from Japan to
America. 9000 miles @ 20c, $1800.00: say four trips a year, $7200.. This
is operating subsidy.
vessels of great speed profit much more, as for every knot over 10. add
20%; so the subsidy on a 15 knot steamer
would be double.
a ship is five years old the subsidy is reduced 5% a year, A
foreign-built ship gets half of the above provided she is owned by
Japanese; over five years old she gets nothing. They are determined to
get a large merchant marine, thinking that their nation can not be truly
great without one. It is certainly commendable the efforts they are
making when their country is burdened by a load of taxation which they
can scarcely stagger under, and they are paying out large amounts every
year to keep up what they have and to build more. Compare that with our
great, rich nation. Our Congressmen pass laws that make it almost
impossible to operate the few ships we have. Since we left home we have
not seen one American flag on a merchant ship, and perhaps won't see one
until we get back, unless it might be on a Pacific Mail boat.
have been very hard in Japan, but they all report a slight improvement.
So the bottom has been reached and it is quite likely that business will
revive all over the world.
home, since Mr. Taft and a Republican House and Senate are elected, our
people will have more confidence and no doubt the revival will be faster
in our country than in most others.
harbor is the same as when here last. There is lots of room in the bay,
but when a storm comes up no work can be done. Shipping is scarce, not
more, than half the usual number. I noticed they were nearly all large
steamers, not many small ones. Evidently the hard times had squeezed the
small ones out.
transportation facilities afforded us were of the best. A special train
was provided for us on all occasions with a dining car attached, and all
meals were furnished free of charge, liquors and wines also being
furnished. I am very pleased to report that I never saw so little wines
and liquor used on any trip of this k id, seeing it was furnished free,
and they were very much surprised that practically none was used. The
street car companies always provided special cars whenever they knew a
few of us were going anywhere.
left Kobe on the "Kosai Main," Nippon Yusen Kaisha boat, for Shanghai
via Moji and Nagasaki, November 7, 1908.
party wound up the trip by attending the Emperor's birthday party. The
review of twenty-five thousand troops was a great sight to see. So ended
a visit, the like of which, I am quite safe in saying, no foreign party
ever received from any nation before.
Dollar and I left the party and proceeded to Shanghai, where we remained
two weeks attending to business. Our offices at this time were at the
corner of Sezcbuen and Nanking Roads.
invited to attend a meeting of the Chinese Chamber of Commerce and
explain to them about our visit to Japan. I told them of the great
benefit it had been to both the Japanese nation and the United States. I
stated that when I returned to America I would see whether it would not
be possible to get up a party to visit China along the same lines on
which we had visited Japan.
then proceeded to Hong Kong and remained there a week. This was a very
busy week as I had a great deal to attend to. From there we sailed on
the "Yawato Maru" for Sydney, Australia. We had a very rough passage
across the China Sea and the ship sustained some damage so we were
delayed a few days in Manila for repairs.
looked over the situation here and found many changes had taken place
since I last visited it seven years ago. At that time the Government
became possessed with the insane idea that the higher the tax they could
impose on shipping, the better. This seems remarkable, since the port of
Hong Kong, their next neighbor, admitted shipping free. The result was
that vessels went to Hong Kong and gave Manna the go-by, causing the
Manila merchants to pay double the freight Hong Kong had to pay. But
shortly before tins visit the authorities had gotten their eyes open and
had reduced there charges almost to their competitor's level, the result
being the reduction of freights, and vessels now go freely to Manila
Another serious drawback was the very slow discharge. A vessel took more
than twice as long and the cost is double to discharge at Manila
compared to any Chinese port All this is changed now. Though it costs
more to stevedore, the dispatch if much better than it was, and Manila
now begins to compare more favorably with her competitors. Furthermore,
I found a desire 011 the part of the Government as well as the merchants
to encourage shipowners to send their ships there, The Government
discovered that shipowners did not have to go to ports unless they would
be assured of the same treatment they received elsewhere. The result of
all this change has been a tremendous increase in the commerce of the
change impressed me so favorably that I decided to look into the
Philippine trade, as Mr. Taft practically told me on his arrival to be
Governor, that American shipowners were not wanted. He had the foolish
idea that the poor Filipinos would be able to furnish all the ships they
wanted, although they neither had the experience, money nor get-up (All
this has been fully demonstrated of late years. Where we are not wanted
is a great place to keep away from, which I did from the Philippines for
seven years, but now we are back and doing a very satisfactory business.
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