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The Imported Pioneers: Westerners Who Helped Build Modern Japan.

Neil Pedlar's central purpose in his collection of forty-two essays is to explore the struggles of a variety of Westerners who lived and worked in nineteenth-century Japan and who assisted in the industrialization and modernization of that nation. The essays derive from short articles written for The Japan Times in a regular column called "Keyhole to the Past" from the late 1970s to the 1980s. These origins shape the character of the volume, whose strengths lie in the sharp and vivid sketches of characters living amid the social and political upheavals as the Tokugawa Shogunate gave way to Meiji Restoration. Its weakness is that the book remains a collection of short essays, lacking an integrated framework or close cross-referencing.

Working as a science teacher in an international school in Yokohama for eight years, Pedlar developed an interest in the Westerners who had arrived a century earlier in Japan. Personal parallels give a keen edge to Pedlar's enthusiasm and writing. Some of his subjects came from his native Cornwall in England to bring their knowledge of railway engineering to Japan. Some came to Yokohama, then a "treaty port" granting conditional access to the foreigners. Many came to teach, some in international schools. However, Pedlar's coverage transcends personal connections to give glimpses of the multifaceted nature of industrialization and modernization. His focuses include individuals involved in the important developments in engineering education, newspapers, architecture, railways, lighthouses, bridges, photography, coal mining, the legal system, and other areas. The nationalities of his pioneers are mixed, even including a Dutchman domiciled in the United States, but "stateless" until granted Japanese citizenship in 1891. In such an eclectic list, there are some gaps in the industrialization experience; for example, there are no links to the iron and steel, shipbuilding, or textile industries.

Although many of the figures portrayed were "imported," in the sense that they were brought in to assist either the Tokugawa Shogunate or the Meiji government in their quests to build the industrial base and infrastructure of modernization, some were missionaries who made their own way into Japan or diplomats who represented foreign powers. The accounts are not all glowing stories of success, for some illustrate the frictions and clashes of willful eccentrics and differing cultural prescriptions. Pedlar recounts the preference of some of the pioneers for carrying a Smith and Wesson to guard against vengeful displaced samurai. Other dangers lurked in the loneliness and sexual frustrations of isolated individuals and in the diseases transmitted through the "pleasure house."

The volume is divided into six sections, covering an introduction; some early adventurers to Japan; the Westerners in the treaty ports; the Western teachers and technocrats; images of Japan transmitted to the West; and eventual equality. Some of the allocations to these sections appear odd. For example, two teachers (Dyer and Milne) are put into "treaty ports" rather than "teachers," whereas a merchant (Glover) who traded in Nagasaki in the early 1860s is put among the teachers and technocrats rather than with the Westerners in the treaty ports. Inevitably in chapters that were conceived as self-contained essays, there is some duplication of the historical narrative where individuals were contemporaries, and the chapters do not follow a neat chronological sequence.

Starting from an interest in the industrialization process, Pedlar transformed his project as he delved into the local sources, and he came to a twin interest in the Westerners as individuals and in the particular phenomena of modernization with which they were associated. It would have enriched the volume if the rather terse standard format of the bibliography had been used for a "bibliographical note" or a note on sources. The author's own distinct interest in the picture postcard is represented by a short essay and reflected in the photographs that enliven the volume.

For students, these readable, informative, and colorful essays will provide a helpful insight into the macro level of change and a useful complement to accounts of growth in Gross Domestic Product. Pedlar's humane and balanced perspective provides provocative questions about the nature and consequences of social change for individuals and societies.

Kevin McCormick is lecturer in sociology in the School of Social Sciences at the University of Sussex. He is the author of several papers comparing the development of engineering education in Britain and Japan. Currently he is engaged in a study of the education, training, and employment of industrial R&D staff in Britain, Japan, Germany, and the United States.
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Author:McCormick, Kevin
Publication:Business History Review
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Dec 22, 1991
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