Japan’s Silk Reelers Blazed an Asian Path of Economic Development
    by Yoichi Shimatsu
    * Editor of The Japan Times Weekly in Tokyo, Japan; E-
    * The founding faculty member of the Journalism and Media Studies Centre at The University of Hong Kong;
    * Lecturer in English-language news reporting at the School of Journalism and Communication at Tsinghua University in Beijing, China

Abstract: Exploring the history of the silk-reeling industry in Chichibu, Japan, this paper challenges the prevalent representation of mountain communities as marginal economic peripheries of the metropolitan center or as reservoirs of poverty and backwardness. Mountain districts were the cradle of an Asian “industrious” revolution that led to Japan’s modernization. The highland-based silk-reeling producers pioneered an autonomous Asian model of industrial development, which competed successfully against the capital- intensive system introduced from the West into coastal cities. The export strength of silk- producing households in upland villages overturns the claim that Japan’s economic miracle was based on the introduction of Western technology and administrative systems. To the contrary, the Asian-style management practices and labor standards developed by the silk producers were transferred to a succession of other industries. These indigenous practices account for the rise of Japanese industry in world markets. The clash between the two opposing models of modernization resulted in modern Japan’s first major civil conflict, the Chichibu Rebellion of 1884, a legacy that has major implications for today’s recession-mired Japan as well as for developing countries striving for an alternative path to economic development.

1 Introduction: A Dissonant Fragment
On entering Chichibu, many visitors feel as if they were passing through a time warp into another country or a bygone era as the train leaves behind Tokyo’s crowded suburbs and winds through steep slopes forested with oaks, beeches and cedars. The Oku Chichibu highlands, however, are a mere 70 kilometers northwest of Tokyo, or about 50 minutes by rail, less than the average two-hour of daily commute of “salarymen” within metropolitan area. The sense of separation between one of the world’s largest cities and this mountain community is a holdover of Chichibu’s past geographical isolation. Stretched along an east-west axis, the Oku Chichibu range ( note: The major peaks of the region include Mitsumine, Kumotori and Kobushidake, with dozens of others ranging between 1,000 meters to 2,200 meters ) was an imposing barrier to overland travel until a tunnel was blasted through the rock in the 1930s. Before then, travelers had to take a roundabout riverboat journey of several days from the capital, located on the Ara River delta, upstream past Kawagoe and  Yorii to the upper reaches in Chichibu.

The first landmark after crossing Ashigakubo tunnel is the step pyramid of Buko Peak ( Chichibu Cement Company, now Taiheiyo Cement Corp., was established in 1923 as a cooperative venture between Kami-Kagemori village and the Jobu Railway Co. (now Chichibu Railway Corp.) then based in Kumagaya, Saitama Prefecture. ) sculpted by dynamite blasts and a fleet of dump trucks that haul away the limestone, part of a primordial seabed, to gigantic crushers and kilns. Vast beyond comprehension, Bukozan’s cavity gave birth to the metropolis of Tokyo that rose out of the ashes of the Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923 and the embers of World War II. Bukozan is a monument to the greatest achievement of modernity, the concrete city.

Japan’s emergence as the first industrial power in Asia was centered in its treaty ports located in the fertile lowlands along the Pacific coast: Tokyo -Yokohama, Osaka-Kobe, Nagoya, Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The conventional view of Japanese history asserts that these ports, which opened to Western commerce in 1859, became export -oriented centers as a result of the Meiji reformers’ drive to introduce technology and modern capitalist administrative standards from the United States and Europe. Factories, infrastructure, electrical power and communications were concentrated in the port cities, while raw materials for the industrialization drive, as well as labor power, were extracted from the mountainous hinterlands. The ports were thus the center of industrialization, while the mountain communities were relegated to the economic periphery. Modernization is interpreted as a triumph of a progressive Western civilization, albeit borrowed by and adapted to a local culture, over a backward and feudal Asiatic mode of production. Economic planners in many developing countries have since adopted the “Japanese model” of modernization, sacrificing traditional local manufactures for the benefit of Western- style industrialization.

This narrative of externally promoted industrialization is flawed by a “fragment that part of the totality of the work that opposes totality”(Adorno, Theodor 1970). The dissonant element is silk, Japan’s main export from the 1850’s through the early 1960’s. The hard currency needed to finance Japan’s Western-style “industrial revolution” largely came from traditional industry of silk- reeling as well as other textile work. Chichibu, I was to discover after several years of residence there, was in fact the cradle of modern Japanese industry, along with other mountain districts. The economic and social influence of this silk-growing mountain district is not immediately apparent to weekend trekkers or even to a transplant like myself, who choose the place for a writer’s cottage because of its forests and low land prices. The evidence of a dynamic economic history lies hidden from sight, in some ways more obscure than Troy was to Schiemann since there is little of a literary tradition or official record of its past existence.

My first sight of this buried industrial architecture was of a black-and-white photo in my realtor’s office. Taken about a century earlier, it shows the old downtown area, then called Omiya, bristling with smokestacks with denuded dark mountains in the background. The dismal landscape looked like one of Dickens’ coal- mining towns rather than the hikers’ paradise that it is today. Kunio Machida, an energetic entrepreneur of many parts – builder, forester, political campaigner and local history buff – corrected my misperception. “There weren’t as many evergreens in those days as there are now, because the old- timers coppiced nara and other oaks for high-quality charcoal,” Machida said ( Kunio Machida, interview, 13 February 2002 ). The present- day evergreen groves, as natural as they seem to be, are actually plantations introduced after World War II, while the stands of native oaks have been greatly reduced. The postwar cedar planting was a state- planned campaign in anticipation of a housing boom, which happened but with cheaper lumber from Southeast Asia and North America. Until the 1950s, the upper slopes were reserved for mulberry bushes, Machida explained, up to the 1,400-meter altitude of the highest postwar timber plantations, an extraordinary elevation given the cold winters in these climes. The upland villagers slashed and burned the precipitous mountainsides to enrich the soil with the ashes of broadleaf trees, yielding a summer feast for their silkworms.

The inroads of Tokyo’s economic planners  reshaped the natural order, and the impact of their policies was even greater on the local community. Mrs. Obitsu, ( Obitsu family interviews, 11 January 2002. In the Edo Era, the village of Niegawa, or “River of Sacrifices,”  linked the boat landing on the upper reaches of the Arakawa with the path to Mitsumine Shrine and the post road over the mountains to Nagano and Kyoto .) a resident of Niegawa village, told me that her family had raised silkworms for many generations until the 1960's, as did every other household in the village. This accounted for the large size of the older houses because cocoons had to be protected indoors in the late autumn, she said. The large two-story homes in the recesses of the Oku Chichibu range are remnants of a social order more complex and culturally richer than the present- day landscape pitted with quarries, flooded by damming and emptied of people. What was destroyed in the space of less than 50 years had taken centuries to perfect.

Sericulture over the Centuries
Silkworms were introduced to Chichibu in the murky Kofun era (250 AD600 AD), named after the huge tumuli, or burial mounds for aristocrats. The area was already known then for shirokinu, or white silk, according to Chichibu Meisen Museum curator Keiji Yokoyama. The oral history related to Koma Shrine, in the foothills east of Chichibu, indicates that silk production and dyeing began in earnest during the Heian Era with the arrival of Korean craftsmen around 700 AD, relatively late in the history of the Silk Road that once linked East Asia with West Asia and Europe ( Keiji Yokoyama, curator, Chichibu Meisen Museum, interviews on 24 & 25 February 2002 ). The founding of dozens of Buddhist temples in the Chichibu highlands in the Kamakura Era (13th 14th century) indicates the growing importance of the silk economy despite the isolation of the mountainous district. Its remoteness was implied by legends of defeated samurai of the Taira clan and later the warlord Masakado’s forces who fled up the Ara River, where they were received shelter from the mountain folk, establishing a tradition of defiance to governing authorities.

In the Edo Era (17th-19th century), the dual payment system that governed taxation and trade spurred the growth of a cash economy in Chichibu and other silk- producing mountain districts. The anomaly of a thriving cash economy under a feudal political structure has been a persistent source of dispute among economic historians, who created the ambiguous category of “premodern” to describe the Edo economy. From the start of their regime, the Tokugawa shoguns imposed a rice levy on the local fiefdoms run by daimyo, or fief lords, since a predictable supply of staple foodstuffs was the very rationale for the feudal social order, known as the bakuhan system. A food surplus was needed not only for the warrior class but also to maintain the corvee labor system, which provided the manpower to build the waterworks, roadways, bridges, docks and fortresses of the great urban centers Osaka and Edo (Tokyo).

The merchant houses, which supplied the swelling city population with food, fuel, clothing and entertainment, conducted commercial transactions through a credit arrangement based on promissory notes, which were ultimately guaranteed by silver or gold coins. The newly urbanized samurai-bureaucrats quickly acquired bourgeois tastes for luxurious garments and house wares. As a result of rising urban consumption, the cash economy penetrated the mountainous districts, which were poor in rice but abundant in metal ores, dyes and silk. To combat inflation caused by the rising price of textiles imported from China (Miyamae Hideki 1990), the new shogunate in 1628 banned farmers from wearing silk clothing and nine years later drastically reduced the inflow of Chinese silk by closing the port of Nagasaki (Heita Kawakatsu asserts that sakoku was imposed to regulate trade rather than completely cut off the Japanese economy from foreign commerce. ).

The shogunate’s spartan dress code came under assault from the kabukimono, riotous samurai dandies who defied convention by wearing outrageous costumes in the entertainment quarters. The lower classes used more subversive means to resist the artificial suppression of demand. Consigned to drab hues, the plebeians wore their colors in bold bands or lined their cloaks with silk prints hidden from public view. The dress rules were bent to the breaking point with the spread of meisen, a hybrid textile made of hemp or cotton in the woof and silk in the weft. Chichibu was a major center of production of meisen for kimono and nassen, used to cover sleeping pads and mats. Most of this trade apparently went on within an informal economy outside of official controls.

The popular resistance to austerity was, at one level, a political protest against arbitrary authority but also, in line with the Zen arts tradition, a call for creative expression in all aspects of daily life. As art critic Shuichi Kato put it: “Traditional Japanese culture was structured, so to speak, with its aesthetic values at its core (Kato, Shuichi 1971). The sixth shogun Tsunayoshi, a dandified esthete, took the path of least resistance in 1713 by enacting an edict promoting silk production. A key measure was to allow taxes for industrial crops including silk and tobacco to be paid for in cash rather than rice. With the lowlands given over to intensive rice production, the mountainous regions possessed the only untapped land available for cash crops. Uesugi Yosan, daimyo of Yonezawa in mountainous Yamagata, is an exemplar of local leaders who promoted industrial crops. Likewise, the Oshi family, a branch of the Hojo clan based at Yorii castle on the Ara River, strongly favored cash crops in the Chichibu uplands. Overshadowed by the east- west ridgeline, the river valley lacked sufficient sunlight for rice or other staple foods. Thus, by the late Edo era, 70 percent of Chichibu households were producing silk. In most cases, single households vertically integrated all steps from growing mulberries to raising cocoons and silk reeling, and relied primarily on the labor of the extended family but also included wage laborers from neighboring homes. This level of organization was more complex than “cottage industry.” The mountain folk did not abandon their subsistence economy and continued to grow barley, millet, buckwheat, chestnuts, radishes and cabbages, a traditional practice still prevalent in the Chichibu highlands. Silk-growing, however, was the primary driver of rising living standards, better education and a surprisingly rich cultural life, as displayed at the annual Chichibu festival. The mid- December festival at Chichibu Shrine became a market-day for silk traders, who rigorous graded the product before delivering it to the capital Edo. By 1789 there were 83 retailers in Edo specializing in Chichibu silk. (Saitama Journalists Association). Total sales reached 27,971 gold ryo, a huge sum considering that the theft of 10 ryo was punishable with the death penalty. ( The value of the oval ryo coin in the Tokugawa period was roughly about 5 koku, or bushel of rice. One koku was the annual food supply for a samurai.) Through this market system, mountain areas were closely connected with the urban center through a division of labor and sophisticated system of financing, bypassing the feudal economy of the fertile lowlands. While the lowland peasants remained bound to the rice economy, the mountain folk were organizing their households as productive business enterprises and operating in a cash economy.

The Case for Asian Modernity

The predominant viewpoint in Japanese studies is that the emerging industrial economy of the Edo Era was “premodern” or merely the commercial extension of feudalism. Economic historian Heita Kawakatsu disputes this notion of a premodern transition existing phantom- like between feudalism and capitalism. The late Edo era, he argues, gave rise to a productive revolution on par with the industrial revolution in Western Europe and the United States. The modernization of Japan came about as the result of an evolutionary process within Asian civilization rather than by emulation of the capitalist West. (Kawakatsu’s arguments summarized here are largely drawn from his seminal article Kindai sekai shisutemu to sakoku, Looking back on the Edo Period, (Bunka Kaigi February 1992: 1022,Kawakatsu et al 1994,2000) Kawakatsu’s perspective finds ample support in the experience of silk-producing mountain districts.

Unlike the tobacco and salt monopolies, the silk traders operated under commercial license, which allowed the development of a market system, even if not on a strictly laissez-faire basis. Under the supervision of shogunate officials, dealers renegotiated the price of silk annually with consortia of producers. The consensus-based arrangement cushioned both sides against the vicissitudes of nature and shocks of the market, and fostered long-term business relationships. The predictable price structure gave the silk growers 186 Page 5 Journal of Mountain Science Vol 1 No 2 (2004)  confidence to borrow from moneylenders ahead of the June-to-October growing season. The annual price- setting scheme maximized the number of players with access to markets and loans, as opposed to the winner-take-all rule of laissez- faire capitalism. The result was a management system that promoted stable growth for a growing number of household enterprises as opposed to a high-risk and high-reward Western system, which has been acutely vulnerable to cyclical crises.

The rapid introduction of technology into the production process was the basis for the industrial revolution in the West. As shown at a local museum in Yoshida-machi, the Edo Era also put high value on technical innovation. In contrast to the Western preference for iron and steel, early Japanese machines were made primarily from a mixture of traditional materials and metal. The frames and moving parts of silk reels, threshers and bellows were built mostly of wood or bamboo, and outfitted with steel blades for crushing or cutting functions. The silk reel of the late Edo Era was so efficient that its basic design has not been changed over the past century. The most significant innovation was the substitution of human power with native waterwheels and later steam power and then electricity, enabling silk workers to use both of their hands to gather silk threads. The evolution of silk- reeling technology reveals one of the notable features of Japanese industrialism: the incremental improvement of production technology by “skilful” workers. The role of the “skilful” worker represents a major difference between the Asian and Western models of industrialization in their respective management philosophies and in the relationships between labor and capital.

In the West, as Max Weber pointed out, the entrepreneur has been exalted as a member of a predestined elect whose faith was affirmed with hard work and accumulation of capital. The result was a bias in favor of the capital congealed in the machine, while the worker faced the steady loss of his social status from craftsman to unskilled laborer. The Western factory is the meeting point of the smart machine and dull worker. The Japanese model, on the other hand, has stressed the role of the “skilful” laborer who exercises a significant degree of authority and responsibility over his tools and, collectively, over the workspace and production process. (Takeshi Hamashita coined the term “industrious revolution” to describe the labor-intensive model of Asian industrialization in Hamashita T., Kawakatsu Heita et al 1991) Japanese-style management is rooted in the role of Edo contractors who not only directed the flow of capital but, more importantly, served as coordinators or middlemen (rather than omnipotent bosses) for a labor force that kept a high degree of autonomy under household-centered production system. This tradition of consensus decision-making was transferred to modern factories as one of the features of the Japanese management system.

The nature of contracts also differed between East and West. “Free” labor in the West was strictly quantified through the strict division of time within the workday. A time card made the possible the hourly wage. Under the Asian system, terms of service were of longer duration and subject to negotiation, a feature that survives in the lifetime employment system and enterprise-based unions in corporate Japan. The incompatibility of the Japanese and Western modes of production was based in the differing attitudes toward the product, especially its value content. As shown in the popular resistance to the dress code, the consumer esteemed the product not only for its utilitarian function but also as an expressive medium.

The potential for goods to transcend social discourse and become pure art objects reached its highest expression in the silk kimono, which with its properties of suppleness and luster constitutes a surface charged with aura, or aesthetic value. The ambiguity of the kimono – its lack of hard edges and non-utilitarian form – tends to hide a complex production process that transforms 10,225 cocoons into an exquisite garment. How can something so formless, imperceptible and indescribable as aesthetic value be defined? “In the sound of silk,” said Keiji Yokoyama, curator of the new Chichibu Meisen Museum. Tweed makes no such sound. Water resistant, hardy against the elements and subdued enough to wear every day, Scottish woolens are a fine expression of the “ascetic spirit” of Western capitalism, described by Max Weber. “This worldly Protestant asceticism  Yoichi Shimatsu acted powerfully against the spontaneous enjoyment of possessions; it restricted consumption, especially of commodities,” Weber wrote. In a “rational” economy modeled after the West, silk handicrafts should have immediately been killed off by the introduction of cotton spinning and then rayon, yet the humble silk reelers survived the great waves of industrialism. “As life changed (in Japan), different types of art dominated in different periods, but the close relationship between art and daily life remained unaltered,” write Shuichi Kato. “Here question arises: How could such a relationship survive in an industrial society?”

Silk Producers Revolt

A change of fashion can have more sweeping consequences than a war or revolution. Whether hose covered the bareness left by rising hemlines or caused hemlines to rise is a chicken-and-egg question. From the mid-19th century to the early 20th century, millions of pairs of feminine legs from Paris to Peoria came out of concealment to be revealed, or re- veiled, in translucent silk. Mass production of textiles had combined with the persuasive power of the mass media to create the fashion industry in the industrial capitals of Europe and North America. The demand for silk stockings in Western countries resulted in Japan’s rapid emergence as a world trading power – and silk reeling was the turnkey for the first Japanese economic miracle. Britain’s military campaigns during the Opium War and Taiping Rebellion had devastated the once- robust Chinese silk industry based in Suzhou. With the opening of Yokohama to foreign trade in 1859, silk became the island country’s largest export and Japan the world’s biggest supplier. To ensure quality control, the Maebashi domain north of Chichibu hired a Swiss expert to design a Western-style silk mill, based on textile plants in the Turin and Rhone-Alps region. Within a year of coming to power in 1869, the new Meiji government launched a crash program to catch up with the Western powers. Besides building the country’s first railroad and expanding its shipbuilding industry, the Tokyo authorities established a large silk mill in Tomioka, Gunma. Caught up in the export fever, the private trading house Ono- gumi opened a plant in Miyamada, Niigata. All of these mills along with other large-scale industrial enterprises, directly owned or indirectly promoted by government, were financial failures.

Western-style industry could not compete against Asian industriousness. The Western- style mills failed to capture the silk export market because they could not obtain cocoons from vertically integrated silk- producing households. Small-scale producers in Gunma and Saitama had little incentive to sell cocoons to large mills because they earned larger profits from selling skeins of reeled silk to contractors or directly through silk manufacturers associations to merchants in Yokohama. Within a dozen years, the Meiji modernization campaign resulted in a debt crisis fueled by costly technology imports and by unproductive bond issues to support unemployed samurai left over from the feudal domains. Runaway inflation caused Chichibu moneylenders to hike their rates on loans taken out prior to the summer silkworm season. By 1881, interest rates had overtaken annual profits of the growers in the Chichibu area, and silk production fell by more than 70 percent during the following three years. Unable to obtain loans, the debt-burdened growers were reduced to selling cocoons to factories rather than finished silk to exporters. The powerhouse of Japan’s modern economy was being crushed by an inefficient and inappropriate factory system copied from the West.

The irreconcilable conflict between the Asian production mode and the newly introduced Western system resulted in a civil war. In 1884, the silk growers of Yoshida-machi raised a force of more than 8,000 rebels from across the Chichibu highlands to seek a debt moratorium and official controls on inflation. Inspired by the example of the Paris Commune, the leaders of the Chichibu Rebellion raised demands for universal suffrage and parliamentary democracy to replace the rule of imperial ministers. When the national government rejected their grievances, the rebels torched the storehouses of the moneylenders and, armed with muskets and spades, fought against columns of armed police and soldiers with breech- loading rifles. After a week of battle, the surviving rebels retreated over mountain passes to rally support among silk growers in Nagano Prefecture in the southern and central Japan Alps. On the eighth day of battle, a second army column descending from Matsumoto trapped the rebels at the foot of Yatsugatake, killing dozens. Some 3,800 men were found guilty of sedition and more common crimes, and the leaders were executed.

The Meiji government and the press denounced the rebellion as a farmers’ riot rather than a revolution. The Incident, as the locals call it, was the harbinger of modern democratic movements that would sweep across Asia over the following century. The spiraling inflation and popular rebellion in Chichibu forced the new finance minister, Matsukata Masayoshi, to sell off the Western-style factories – including the failed textile plants – at fire-sale prices and to impose currency controls. The silk mills were privatized and turned over to large trading houses such as Mitsui. Silk production rapidly revived when Yokohoma merchants began to extend loans to local silk manufacturers associations, replacing the hated moneylenders.

Throughout the 1890s, household-based silk manufacturers associations accounted for three-fourths of silk output in the prefectures of Gunma and Chichibu, as opposed to Nagano, Aichi, Gifu and Yamanashi, where large-scale mills predominated. Single households continued to efficiently compete against the Western-style mills by adapting waterwheel power and other technical improvements. In 1901, however, the small producers of Gunma were hit by the same nemesis as Chichibu 15 years earlier – a loan crisis, this time caused by the collapse of a local bank.

Reeled silk and silk products were Japan’s major source of foreign exchange earnings, accounting for 36 percent of total export earnings from 1881-1893. This income was extremely important to counterbalance the rising import demand during the early phase of industrialization, and enabled the national economy to register a slight trade balance in these difficult times (Yamazaki, Ippei 1998). The total number of silk-reeling mills rose from 336,224 in 1894 when figures were first tallied until a peak of 421,913 in 1900. Strict quality control standards imposed by silk merchants caused attrition in the number of machine reeling-factories as well as hand-reeling shops, the former shrinking by half from 1905 to 1926 while the smaller operations were reduced by two thirds over the same period (Institute of Development Economics 1969). The worldwide Great Depression was preceded by the 1926-27 financial downturn in Japan, which resulted in halving the number of hand-reeling shops from 131,789 in 1925 to 66,249 in 1927. The better- financed machine-reeling factories took advantage of this crisis for small producers, and increased in number from the low point of 3,509 factories in 1928 to 3,738 in 1930. The number of farm households engaged in cocoon raising rose from 1.67 million in 1915, when nationwide annual figures were first reported, to a peak of 2.2 million in 1929, when the Great Depression drastically reduced the volume of international trade. Total raw silk production in Japan continued to rise, however, until 1934, buoyed somewhat by the thriving sari trade with the British- controlled Indian subcontinent. Throughout the crises of the worldwide depression and Japanese military intervention in China, hand-reeling shops survived despite gradual attrition to 26,735 units by 1940, the last year statistics on this sector were compiled.

The decline of household production was, therefore, not the result of inefficient allocation of labor, machinery or management skills. The Asian model of industrialization came under assault from an unrealistic industrialization policy and fiscal mismanagement, as well as the military repression by a national government that was taking a course of aggression that culminated in the Pacific War. From this perspective, the non- militaristic economic growth of postwar Japan – reflected in the so-called Japanese management system – can be interpreted as a partial return to a more balanced Asian model of modernization.

Women Workers in Industrial Society

The proponents of a Western-led “global system” have never tried to argue that the factory system improved the living standards of Japanese silk workers. An undeniable piece of evidence of  labor relations in Western-style mills is preserved in the Chichibu Municipal Folklore Museum: a seven-year labor contract for a nine-year-old girl sent to a Chichibu mill by her parents from the Tohoku region for a sum of 30 yen. The feature film “Nomugi Pass” depicts how young women from mountain communities in Nagano Prefecture endured the harsh conditions of the Western- style mills, where indoor steam and dormitory crowding created a breeding ground for tuberculosis and other respiratory diseases. The popular movie also showed the other side of factory life, as mountain women extended their sense of community solidarity into the economic relations of the factory and fought for labor rights. (Depicting the lives of silk reelers in the Okaya district of Suwa, Nagano, Nomugi Toge, Nomugi Pass, directed by Satsuo Yamamoto, was shot on location at the Hasegawa silk mill in Yonezawa, Yamagata. The 1979 film was inspired by the first strike in Kofu, Gunma.) The first industrial strike in Japan was organized in 1885 by female silk reelers in Gunma Prefecture ( Tsurumi, Patricia 1990 ).

In contrast to other mountain districts, large mills never dominated silk production in Chichibu. From the 1920s through the late 1960s, more than 560 mills and dye works were operating in central Chichibu and the outlying town of Takashino. Nearly all enterprises were family-owned, and 58 percent had less than five employees, according to the Chichibu Meisen Museum. Although a large share of local silk continued to be produced for export, Chichibu’s weaving industry also produced cushion covers and meisen for the domestic market. Chichibu’s silk industry was eventually doomed by the postwar craze for Western clothing and lifestyles, a trend bolstered by advertising and the media. Fashion, this time around, proved to be fatal. Today, the mills are gone. In Takashino, a handful of surviving mill buildings are now used as warehouses. Some 50 cocoon growers still produce cocoons for surviving mills in Gunma and Fukushima prefectures.

Silkworm grower Yoshio Takagishi of Kami-Yoshida- machi, takes pride in his eco- friendly farm where the spent logs for growing mushrooms are later burned as fuel to heat his silkworm sheds. The middle-aged grower is a living link with history, being a descendant of Takagishi Zenkichi, a leader of the Chichibu Rebellion (Yoshio Takagishi, interview, 28 February 2002). The strongest evidence for the continuing existence of the Asian economic model now has only a tenuous connection with silk. The “skilful labor” from the silk industry was literally transferred to the watch- making and electronic industries, as former silk workers moved into the new factories in Chichibu in the 1960s and ‘70s. Silk grower Yoshio Takagishi said that the declining demand for silk means that sericulture could survive for only another 15 years in Chichibu, that is, until his generation retires. Keiji Yokoyama, curator of the Chichibu Meisen Museum, is pessimistic about the possibility of younger generations of Japanese abandoning a Western-style lifestyle based on convenience. Curator Yokoyama notes that India retains the silk sari as the daily garment because “Indians unlike the Japanese have retained their indigenous lifestyle.” The loss of cultural tradition is having an adverse economic impact on younger people, since the domestic textile industry, once a major employer, cannot provide new jobs. Clothing design is a component of what economic historian Heita Kawakatsu calls a “set” of goods that constitute a lifestyle. Fashion decisions are not simply based on volition but involve the marketing campaigns and distribution systems of trading companies, which profit by importing cotton and wool produced by agribusiness while marginalizing textiles like silk and hemp grown in small mountain communities. The irreconcilable divergence between two paths of economic development continues to fester, as Japan remains stuck in a long-term industrial recession.

Conclusion:A Need to Examine the Economies of Mountain Communities

The example of Chichibu points to the need to re- examine the economic history of mountain communities, a study far beyond the modest geographical scope of this discussion. It can be said, however, that the studies of mountainous regions such as Kashmir and Himalayan Nepal have mostly focused on environment and culture, without exploring the economic relationship between these  elements. Kashmir has been one of the wealthiest regions of India, in spite of the pressures of political division, communal conflict and popular insurgency. Its traditional prosperity was based on the fine wool of its mountain goats, woven into cashmere fabric, as well as silk embroidery. Despite the harm done to India’s calico producers under English colonial trade laws, Kashmir’s isolation and separate political status allowed its textile industry to prosper with exports to Britain. The Newaris of the Kathmandu valley is another example of a community that excelled in the metalworking trades, creating a rich urban culture and maintaining an extensive trade with the Tibetan plateau and the agrarian Terai plains. What these communities have in common was the ability to add value to their mountain- based resources, establish niche industries and use the cash economy to their advantage in trading with lowland cities and foreign markets.

Mountains have also proven to be the undoing of both communities, with warfare along the Himalayan Line of Control for the Kashmiris and the Cold War’s reduction of trade between Nepal and Tibet for the Newaris. Tourism has largely substituted in both cases for the pre- existing regional trade, distorting to some degree the economic self- development potential of these communities with an artificial overemphasis on handicrafts rather than local industry. The larger problem remains, however, in the industrial policies of central governments, which tend to favor state-owned or insider monopolies at the expense of local producers.

Studies of the traditional economic dynamics of mountain communities could lead to a better understanding of their potential for industrial self- development, as well as more sustainable trade links with the developed countries. In its early development drive, Japan’s homegrown industry proved to be the basis for economic growth rather than a disadvantage. “The industrial component ratio of textiles (in the “cottage” sector) in Japan in the earlier years were higher than in ever seen in the present-day developing countries.” (Ishikawa, Shigeru 1969.) The retreat of NGOs and tourism before the ongoing Nepalese hill people’s insurgency, reminiscent of the Chichibu Rebellion, shows that external dependency relations, no matter how well intended or ideally conceived, cannot substitute for indigenous industry rooted in the environment and culture of mountain communities.

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