Kazuo Nimura
Takano Fusataro and His Times

4     A Japanese Store in San Francisco
                   - The realization and collapse of a dream -

A Voyage on the USS 'New York'

 Pacific Mail Steamship Company - the Great Republic

On a fine morning at 10 a.m. on December 2, 1886, Takano Fusatarô left Yokohama onboard the U.S. steamer New York. He was a month short of 18 years old, and his mother, brother and friends all came to see him off. This was not an exciting send-off with ship's horn sounding and colorful tape stretching and waving between the ship and the pier. At Yokohama at that time, there was no pier that allowed large ships to dock, so passengers had to embark from a lighter that carried them out to the ship moored in the harbor. It may be noted in passing that the day Fusatarô left Yokohama was also the day of the founding of the American Federation of Labor in the USA. Ten years later, he would return home as the Federation's general organizer for Japan, but in December 1886 he knew nothing about it.
   The New York was a passenger ship of the Pacific Mail Steamship Company which made regular trips from Hong Kong to San Francisco via Yokohama. Naturally enough, it took on its first passengers at Hong Kong, and most of them were migrant workers. Legislation was enacted in the United States in 1882 to exclude Chinese, so the number of Chinese emigrants declined, but whether it was voyages to visit join one's relatives in America, or getting round the law by obtaining British nationality in Hong Kong, the majority of passengers were, as usual, Chinese workers.

Ten Japanese passengers boarded the New York including Takano Fusataro at Yokohama. One of them was a young man of the same age, Ishizaka Masatsugu, an activist of the Freedom and People's Rights Movement of Tama area (outskirt of Tokyo) and the son of Ishizaka Masataka, the first chairman of the Kanagawa Prefectural Assembly. Later, his elder sister, Ishizaka Mina would fall passionately in love with Masatsugu's friend, a noted poet and a literary critic Kitamura Tôkoku and would abandon her own fiancé to marry him; Masatsugu thus became Tôkoku's brother-in-law. In fact, the reason why we know the date of Takano's departure and the name of the ship is because Masatsugu still recalled those details of his passage to America half a century later. He wrote them all down in letters to his father, which is how we know all about the days on board the New York. Here is the principal extract from Masatsugu's account of the trip.

   At 10 a.m. in the morning of December 2, 1886, I said goodbye to my friends; Hirano, Mizushima, Matsumoto, Yamaguchi, Aoki, Seto, Oka, Fukazawa and my sister. The white sails caught the east wind, and the ship sped like an arrow. We soon passed Kan'nonzaki, and it seemed that the green mountains of Bôso were wishing me well on my ocean voyage. There were nine other Japanese on board.
    On the first day, we all walked around the deck and spent the time looking to east and west. The second day was a fine one, but from about three p.m. a strong north-easterly wind began to blow, rocking the ship a great deal. The weather on the third day was also fine, but the wind was as strong as the previous day, and over half the Japanese onboard suffered from seasickness. I too felt faint but got over it by drinking some medicine given me by Mr. Takahata. We shared it out amongst us and everyone felt better afterwards. For nearly three weeks, day after day, all we saw was waves.

It was almost unbearably boring. Nagai Kafû, a well-known novelist who crossed the Ocean in 1903 gives an account of such a voyage in the opening of his Amerika monogatari (American Stories).

   From the day we embarked and lost sight of the mountains of the homeland until the day we reached the continent on the other side of the beyond more than half a month later, we saw not a single island, not a single mountain. Yesterday the ocean, today the ocean - amid this never-changing view of the Pacific, this vastness, above the rise and fall of the huge swelling waves the only thing to be seen was the flight of a grey albatross with its long wings and curved beak. As the ship sailed north gradually the days of pleasant bright weather became fewer, and every day was one of dark grey clouds with frequent rain or mist.

Nagai Kafuu was actually describing a voyage to Seattle; Takano's journey to San Francisco seems to have been blessed with better weather.
   Returning to Ishizaka's letter:

   On the fourth day out the wind dropped. The fifth day was fine, and the some of the Japanese passengers told each other their life stories. Most of them had lived in Yokohama, and there were many exchanges of views about people in Yokohama, the rich and the poor, the beautiful and the ugly.
   The food I had taken on board with me was all gone by the end of the fifth day. I had eaten my box of oranges in two days and a can of condensed milk in an hour. The people on board shared with each other what they had. On the sixth day a forceful southerly wind blew up, the strongest of the whole voyage, but it did not bother me, and I continued with my walks round the deck throughout the day. The seventh day was very cold; I spent it lying down in the cabin.
   There were nine of us to a cabin. Passenger quarters for the Chinese were on the lowest level, where ventilation was poor. There were 75 Chinese onboard. Our cabin was at the middle level. This had been secured by payment to the steward of a bribe of 5 dollars for each of us. The cabins for the Japanese passengers were next to the low class cabins for European passengers. The upper class cabins were also situated on the middle level of the ship. There were three upper class passengers.

Let us look a little more closely at this ship. The Pacific mail ships employed on regular routes at that time were fitted with both sails and steam power. The ships had four decks. On the uppermost were quarters for first class passengers, the captain and ship's officers. On the second deck level were quarters for second class passengers and the rest of the crew. Third class passenger accommodation was on the third deck, while luggage and baggage were stored on the lowest deck.
   The actual terminology used at the time was discriminatory in terms of race: second class cabins were referred to as 'Cabins for Europeans' while third class cabins were 'Cabins for Chinese'. Third class 'cabins' were large open plan rooms with bamboo bunk beds 270 cm long by 60 cm wide as the only private space per person. The ventilation was bad and the space extremely cramped. There was the smell of bodies, food, vomit due to sea-sickness, all of which was enough to make one retch. The overcrowding, the smell and the cold made a third class voyage hard to bear.
    Most of the Japanese could afford neither the $250 first class tickets nor the $85 second class tickets; almost all of them bought $50 third class tickets. But they were actually assigned to second class cabins by stewards who, on payment of $5, would upgrade their accommodation. Or rather, when there were places available in second class cabins, Japanese passengers were allocated second class status from the start and were told that "if you don't pay the 'surcharge', move to third class". It was a policy of increasing income, even if only by a small amount, rather than traveling with empty cabins. When they learned that they could travel second class on payment of a $5 surcharge, most Japanese passengers chose that option.

A student who organized the Kogakukai in Yokohama

Let us return to Ishizaka's letter:

   The eighth day. Fine weather. On this day we crossed from the east to the west hemisphere and so the date, December 9, was the same the following day. A kind sailor took the trouble to come and tell us that the time change would occur at 10.30 that evening (8 a.m. Japan time)....The ship's doctor came to give us vaccinations. There was a doctor among Japanese passengers, who told us that it was the rather old Dutch style vaccination. An incision was made into the skin with a surgical knife and the vaccination administered by means of scraping the incision with a small piece of ivory.
   The ninth day. Overcast and then rainy. On the tenth day, we Japanese all wrote our names for each other in a notebook. There were two bankers (one was the President of Yokohama Motegi Bank), two medical students, one of whom was Adachi Ryôsuke of Kawai Village, Tsuzuki County, Kanagawa Prefecture who had studied under Dr. Kondô in Yokohama. Another had started a medical practice in the countryside, Arita County, Wakayama Prefecture. There was a student from Kawagoe town and another named Ishikubo from north Saitama, an artisan from Yokohama, a student who had organized the Kôgakukai (Pursuit of Study Group) in Yokohama [this was none other than Takano Fusatarô - Nimura], a shop assistant at a Tokyo paper store, and myself, ten of us in all....
   The twelfth day was very cold. That evening we started playing cards. Those who lost paid a forfeit of 10 sen. We had a card game session every evening until the night before our arrival. I played too and lost 50 sen. The biggest losers lost 80 sen and the smallest 30 sen. By that time, everyone was running out of the food they had brought with them, so with the forfeits paid by the losers we could buy some coffee and beefsteak which we all scrambled to get down us. We had heard from the bankers some time before that they had tried this, so we others tried it too, paying 10 sen to a Chinese cook for coffee and bread. Throughout the voyage we had no problems with lack of food. At first, none of us ate the meals prepared for the passengers but by the end of the trip we were eating them.
   On the 13th day hail fell in the morning, but it was not so cold. The 14th day was fine weather, the 15th overcast and the 16th very bright. On the 17th there was rain in the morning, but the afternoon was fine, and the evening was again overcast. Such changeable days were common throughout the voyage. That day the sailors cleaned the ship and made it look spick and span. The 18th day we were due to arrive, so everyone prepared for disembarking. At 4.20 pm we passed the Golden Gate and arrived in San Francisco in the early evening. Everything I saw around filled me with an unbounded happiness.

After a voyage lasting 19 days the New York sailed into the port of San Francisco in the evening of December 19, 1886. The port was almost surrounded by the land of San Francisco Bay like a lake, the entrance to the bay being by the narrow channel known as the Golden Gate. It was a most fitting name for the area since San Francisco's dramatic expansion during the gold rush, but in fact, the name predates the gold rush. Unlike Yokohama, here large steamers could dock at the pier, and passengers could step directly onto the American continent.

From the Cosmopolitan Hotel to the Fukuinkai

Dec 19, 1886: Takano Fusatarô spent his first night in America at the Cosmopolitan Hotel. We know this, because the name of the hotel is mentioned in the draft of a letter that was to be sent to Takano by his brother-in-law Iyama Kentarô in reply to news of Fusatarô's arrival in America. The hotel manager Dennis Buckley was keen to attract Japanese guests and made sure to have someone waiting at the wharf when they embarked. Newly arrived Japanese passengers heard someone say in their own language : "We can take you and your luggage by carriage to the Cosmopolitan Hotel!" they would have felt like staying at least their first night there. A first class hotel would charge $4-5 a night, but here it was only $1 to $1.50, although one had to share a large room with five others.
The Cosmopolitan Hotel  reproduced from a hotel letter head    The hotel was located at No. 100, Fifth Avenue, opposite the US Mint. It is the site of the San Francisco Chronicle building today. The hotel was a large four-story building and one of San Francisco's cheaper establishments, but to Fusatarô it must have seemed a luxurious place. He admired the fact that it was equipped with one of the products of modern civilization, the 'irebeeta' (elevator), which had not yet made its appearance in Japan. Fusatarô would himself become one of the hotel's touts, and his lifelong friend Jô Tsunetarô would work there as a dishwasher, but that is getting ahead of the story. At this point, the thing to remember is that the Cosmopolitan Hotel was an important place for Fusatarô and his fellow passengers.
    Although the rooms may have been cheap, living in a hotel for any length of time was not; he could not stay there for days. The next place he chose was a boarding house run by the Fukuinkai (Gospel Society). The Fukuinkai, established in 1877 by Japanese Christians living in San Francisco, was an organization for Japanese Christians resident in America and put its efforts into supporting Japanese students. Lodging there cost 10 cents a night for members - $2 a month. It was also cheap for non-members, who paid 15 cents a night or $3 a month. Meals cost 30 cents a day for three meals, irrespective of membership, so one could live there for just $11-12 a month. Jobs on offer there from people seeking Japanese workers as well as English conversation classes; it was a meeting place for Japanese in America. The environment and facilities, however, could not be compared with those of a hotel.
   The rooms were in the basement and without windows. They were very dark and had to be lit even in the daytime. The only furniture was a broken table and instead of chairs, wooden frames like orange boxes. Nails were hammered in the tables and candles were stuck on them.....soon after its establishment, the neighboring rooms were secured for accommodation. Members built stacks of wooden bunk beds like the ones on board ships and slept on mats made of potato sacks stuffed with grass. Cold, dark and damp, that boarding house with all its faults was known by the nickname anagura (underground storeroom), (Yuuji Ichioka, Issei [The first generation of the Japanese in America])

Fusatarô stayed at Fukuinkai ten years after its founding. During that time, there had been numerous splits and reunions, relocation from Washington Street to Jessie Street, and a branch was opened in Oakland. After two nights at the Cosmopolitan Hotel, Ishizaka Masatsugu moved to that Oakland branch. It would seem that after crossing to America, Takano Fusatarô spent some time with Ishizaka, and that would have been at the Oakland Fukuinkai.
   For Japanese arriving in America, the usual entry route was to spend one or two nights at the Cosmopolitan Hotel and then move on to Fukuinkai. Many of those of who later became famous in the history of the social movement in Japan, such as Katayama Sen and Yamazaki Kesaya, sampled the hospitality of the Fukuinkai. Ozaki Yukio, Shimada Saburô, Tsunajima Ryôsen, Murai Tomoyoshi and Kôtoku Shuusui all lectured at Fukuinkai, which, for the Japanese community on the West coast, was a real centre of social and cultural activity.

Becoming a 'schoolboy'

The first job Fusatarô found was as a 'schoolboy'. This did not mean 'male student'. It was a term peculiar to the San Francisco area in the 19th century. It was part-time home help work for someone who would act as guarantor during one's period of study. A term of self-deprecation the 'schoolboys' themselves used was gejôshosei, literally, 'maidservant houseboy'.
   The wages were low; though other work usually paid a $1 a day, they received only $1-2 a week. They were, however, assured a room and meals, and in their free time from 8:30 a.m. until 3:30 p.m. they could attend class. It was a job which suited young men just arrived in America who wanted to study 'living English' and learn about American society and culture.
    They had to get up before anyone else, light the fires, boil the water and lay the table for breakfast. Then, depending on the family, they would make the coffee and cook mash. They would clear the table after breakfast and wash the dishes. Then it would be off to school. They would return home at three or four pm, help with the preparation of the evening meal, set the table again and then clear things away afterwards. Then they would be free to study. Such was the normal routine. On Saturdays they had to spend the day cleaning the house. Sunday was their day off.

The work itself was not difficult. But they were hampered by the barriers of language and culture; it was not as easy for them as we today might think. The poet Yone Noguchi (Noguchi Yonejirô, the father of the sculptor Isamu Noguchi) has written about his and his friends' experiences as a 'schoolboy'.

    Our first encounters with American homes were farcical. Even the stove was something strange. One of my friends tried to light a fire in the cooking chamber of the oven. Another nearly blew out the gaslight. The mistress of one house was shocked to see one of us about to remove his trousers as well as his shoes when he was going to polish the floor. One might think it truly bizarre, but it really happened.The person involved believed he behaved quite naturally because he regarded his American clothes as a real luxury and was afraid to dirty them. I too once just went into the private room of the lady of the house without knocking beforehand.

If the lady of the house or her maid were aware of the differences between American and Japanese culture, there was no problem, but if not, then such incidents could lead to instant dismissal at the employer's convenience. Hoshi Hajime, the founder of Hoshi Pharmaceuticals, was dismissed 25 times! This master of 'short-time working', the father of Hoshi Shin'ichi, the novelist known for his "short-short" science fiction stories, sometimes found himself out on the street because he had been fired by his employer but on no small number of other occasions he promptly just quit because as a big man, he did not appreciate being ordered about by the mistress of the house or having to wash dishes and clean the house on the maid's orders. For a Japanese male of that period, having to do housework was a maid's work and no job for a man; it was hard to overcome such feelings.

Work at the Brayton Household

The family that employed Fusatarô as a 'schoolboy' lived in Oakland, 20 minutes across from San Francisco by ferry. Here were avenues of homes that had been developed as holiday houses and residential areas for San Francisco's wealthier citizens, but the area had grown rapidly as the terminus for the transcontinental railroad. With a population of about 50,000, in the 1880s it had become California's second largest city after San Francisco.

Fusatarô too was soon turned out of his first post but quickly moved to another at the home of Albert P. Brayton at No. 1186 Jackson Street, Oakland. Here Fusatarô was called Henry and much liked by all the family; he was treated as a member of the family rather than as a servant.
    Albert Brayton was 55 years old at the time, and his wife Mildred was 45; they had both been born in Watertown, New York, near the Canadian border. After graduating middle high school in his hometown, Albert helped out at his father's hardware business. At 24 he cut loose and moved to San Francisco, where he tried a number of jobs including growing meadow grass. He then suddenly returned home for a while but went back to California in the 1860s, this time settling in Oakland, where his brother was a minister, and became the joint owner of the Rankin and Brayton Company, which operated an iron foundry and engineering works. He was an owner, but the 1880 national census shows him as 'iron foundry worker', so he must also have worked in the foundry. The company bought the Pacific Ironworks, known for its production of mining machinery, and acquired the patent for the famous Pelton Wheel, so business was running along very well in the 1880s. When Fusatarô began working for the Braytons, the joint ownership had ceased, and Albert Brayton was the sole owner.

The Braytons had three children, all of them born in California: Louise (21), Albert Junior (19) and Edward (16). It was Mildred's third marriage, and only Edward was her child. According to data from the National Census, the daughter most likely married and left home. Data for 1890 were lost in a fire and have not survived.
    The Brayton family's wealth, according to 1870 census records, consisted of $5,000 of real estate and $1,000, but in 1888, the year of the acquisition of the Pacific Ironworks, the company capital reached $200,000. In 1887, when Fusatarô moved in, the family was clearly considerably wealthy, but their lifestyle was simple and frugal. This is evidenced by the fact that the two teenage boys worked at their uncle's sawmill during the summer vacation. Albert's long years of working as a manual worker himself no doubt accounted for such a family lifestyle.

Fusatarô probably attended class in his free time. A letter to him from E.S. Baker, who appears to have been a classmate and who also lived in Oakland, has survived from that time. Fusatarô was learning English composition from a Mrs. A.B. Kingsland of San Francisco. Two letters and invoices to him from Mrs Kingsland have survived.
    But after just six months, Fusatarô's life in Oakland came to an end, because Albert Brayton's health declined, requiring him to go into a sanatarium. But this did not spell the end of Fusatarô's connection to the family. He traveled with the two sons to the seaside town of Point Arena, 200 km north of San Francisco. The letter of July 31, 1887, informing his family of this trip, is the earliest we have from his own hand:

   All continues to go well with me, so please do not worry on my account. I have received your letter of June 30 and the newspaper. My former employer in Oakland plans to move to a place called San Diego about 100 ri south of San Francisco for a year to recover from his illness [100 ri = 393 km, but the real distance between both places are more than 700 km]. His two sons and I came here, and yesterday they went home. The owner of this place is the younger brother of my former employer, so he is very kind.
    I have been here 5 weeks already. I plan to return to San Francisco at the end of next month. Here in America I think carefully about everything that I do, so please do not worry. I do nothing out of the ordinary or anything that would give cause to make people laugh at me.
    Since coming here, I have been doing 'extremely hard work' but I am quite well and I happily do my job. I am always energetic and optimistic. Today is Sunday, and this morning I went with four or five other boys to walk in the nearby hills, where we picked tree fruits called ' berries' before coming home. Every day I translate novels in the evening and I make sure to be in bed at 10 o'clock. These days I am not the morning lazybones as I was in Japan.
    Sometimes there's a comedy performance on at the amusement hall, which is called a 'show'. There was one last night so I went to see it. Basically, it was a comic story with a heavy punch line, and there was also some dancing by black people in it. At the end there was what they call 'social dancing', but I did not take part and just watched. Fortunately, while the people here hate the Chinese, they like the Japanese, which makes me very happy. When a mistake is made by a Chinese they often hit him, but if by a Japanese it ends with them just saying "All right, all right!" These days I've come to understand all kinds of things about life here in America, so things are fine. But there are a lot of uneducated people who cannot write and whose speech is all 'broken English,' and this gives me problems.
  Mother,  Iwasaburô

Ôshima Kiyoshi, who discovered and commented on this letter, speculated that the place where Fusatarô was working in Point Arena, may have been "a theater", but if it were a theater, Sundays and evenings would have been the busiest times, and he would not have been able to go for walks or be "in bed every night by 10 o'clock". In fact, two years after writing this letter, Fusatarô returned to the town, and on the envelope of a letter written to him there by a friend was written "c/o Point Arena, Garcia Sawmill". When he had first come to Point Arena, it had also been to work at this same Garcia Sawmill. This can be deduced from the fact that the phrase 'extremely hard work' appears in the letter.
    For Fusatarô, who only knew life in big cities - Nagasaki, Tokyo, Yokohama - and who had not held anything heavier than a pen, his manual labor lifestyle, surrounded by the huge natural vistas at Point Arena, was a fresh experience the like of which he had never before tasted. He soon became friendly with other young people and with them on Sundays he would go walking in the surrounding fields and hills. One can sense that within only just over six months he had adapted himself well to life in America.
    He was certainly much liked by the Brayton family for whom he had worked during his time as a 'schoolboy'. If that had not been the case, then when there was no further need for his services when Mr. Brayton went into the sanatorium, he would not have been taken to Point Arena by the two sons of the family and they would not have found a job for him at the sawmill owned by their relative. These events show both that Fusatarô was a socially-minded person and that he had brought his English ability to the point where he could interact freely with American people. Perhaps that is why he was even critical of those around him who spoke a 'broken English' or who could not write. The 'amusement hall' mentioned was no doubt the assembly hall at the saw mill. Traveling troupes would blacken their faces and do song and dance and comic routines as minstrel shows and dance parties were held.

Temporary return to Japan to prepare for the start of business

At the beginning of October 1887 Fusatarô returned to Japan but stayed just one month. He had been in American less than a year, so why did he make this expensive flying visit back home? His brother Iwasaburô's memoirs provide a brief but clear answer.

    Afterwards he came back to Tokyo (I was then in the First High School) and sold a small forest hill property in Nagasaki for 200 yen (about 2,000 yen at today's values) to provide the capital for a trading business, and then returned to America. He traveled third class, which cost about $40. [My Brother Takano Fusatarô]

In other words, the trip was part of the preparations to open the Japanese goods store business he had long thought about. He had easily adjusted to American society and was confident of his English ability, so he was planning his next step. But he needed capital for the business and had returned home with the aim of securing it.
    His family and relations felt uneasy about his new plans. His sister's husband Iyama Kentarô was especially concerned and wrote in his diary for December 14, 1887;

    "I wrote draft letters stating my views to Tokyo, America and Nagasaki in the morning. Completed the letters in the evening. Retired at 11 pm".

The content of the letter is unknown, but it no doubt warned against his brother-in-law's plan. It was the plan of a young man less than 19 year old, with no real achievements to his name - it was only natural there would be anxiety.
   Raising capital would not be easy, and the only recourse was to sell off some of the land in the Nagasaki countryside that still belonged to the Takano family. 200 yen was a great deal of money at that time, but the round trip to America would take up half that amount; there would not be enough left to start a business. It seems that Fusatarô also borrowed some money from his relatives, including those at Itoya, and also from friends.
    With the money he eventually accumulated, during his brief stay in Japan, Fusatarô went about purchasing the goods he intended to sell in his business. These included silk goods such as handkerchiefs, ceramics, lacquerware, tortoiseshell products, ivory goods, picture postcards, and various bamboo products such as fans, folding fans, and umbrellas. This much is clear from serial articles he wrote for the Yomiuri Shimbun newspaper "Reports from San Francisco". In one report he gave a detailed account of his experience shipping $100 worth of goods from Yokohama to San Francisco. The original value of the goods was $100. To this was added $8 shipping cost, $3 packing and lading costs at Yokohama, $35 customs duties, $3 import duty at San Francisco customs, and $1.50 for transportation in San Francisco - $50.50 in total. The total sales cost of the goods came to $150.50.    $1 then was worth 1.25 yen, so Fusatarô had 125 yen worth of goods and had to pay more than 63 yen in freight and customs costs. When the cost of his return trip was factored in, the total amounted to at least 300 yen.

But during Fusatarô's short trip back to Japan, there was a development that would be prove to be of great significance in his life. He was asked to become a correspondent for the Yomiuri Shimbun. It was of course not a post that would bring in a regular income, and he probably did not receive much for his articles, but through this he gained access to a wide readership for his writing. The unknown Takano Fusatarô was selected through the 'pull' of the newspaper's editor-in-chief, Takata Sanae. Takata had visited Yokohama frequently as a guest speaker at meetings of the Yokohama branch of Dôkôkai and knew Fusatarô well. On returning to the USA, Takano soon began his series of articles to the Yomiuri the first of which - Reports from San Francisco - appeared in the December 22, 1887 issue under the initials O.T.F. Both in regard to this post of correspondent, and in regard to the influence of the book Yôkôron (On Travels to the West), Takata Sanae was clearly the one of the major figures in Fusatarô's life.

The opening of the Japanese Goods Store

Once back in America, Fusatarô immediately set about preparing to open a Japanese goods store. Busy days followed as first, he had to deal with the formalities relating to the goods he was seeking to import, find a suitable location for the store and enter into contractual negotiations to rent it and then think of writing advertisements and research the market situation. This young man who had lived in the United States for only just over a year had the English ability but no business experience, and to deal with various problems without such experience in a foreign country with a different legal system and different social customs was no easy matter. Nevertheless, he was on track to realizing a long cherished dream, and guided by that dream, he lived through many full and active days in seeking to bring it to fruition.

As he got on with his preparations, he also took care to check out the business competition. This was always a characteristic of Fusatarô's activities: whenever he started something new, he would always first gather all kinds of information (including statistics) that was relevant to the area. He included such information in a 'Report from San Francisco' he wrote for the Yomiuri Shimbun newspaper. He concluded in his report that it was hard for a Japanese selling Japanese goods in San Francisco to win out against the inevitable and tough competition from Chinese merchants. Reading this, one cannot help but wonder why he pressed on with his determination to start the business, despite being aware of the tough prospects that lay ahead for his Japanese goods store. Before considering this, however, let us look in a little more detail at the results of his 'market research'.

According to his 'Report from San Francisco', there were 78 other establishments selling Japanese goods. Nearly 90% of them (70 shops) were run by Chinese. Of the remainder, five were Japanese-owned and three by westerners. Chinese shops would of course sell Chinese goods, but some customers would want Japanese products, so they would also stock those too, and there were even some Chinese shops that sold Chinese made goods with 'made in Japan' labels on them. Chinese shops were not only numerous, but their service was good, and they offered a wide range of products at reasonable prices. The reason they could sell their goods so cheaply Fusataro analyzed as follows:

    The first reason is the shop-owner's low purchase price. Chinese merchants make sure to buy up reject products in Yokohama that western merchants would not touch. Moreover, they buy cheaply in bulk, direct from producers, without going through middlemen, and they pay up front.
   The second reason is they avoid paying customs duties or they do not refrain from engaging in illegal activities such as passing on freight to commercial agents through back channels.
    The third reason is that the low living standards of the Chinese make it possible for their merchants to price their goods so cheaply. In America they lead the same life that they do in their own country, they are not extravagant in dress or food and they put up with working long hours including holidays. Their living costs are low even compared with Japanese living in America.

Fusatarô concluded that "we shall have to abandon the idea that it will be possible for us to beat the Chinese merchants".
    Despite this 'abandonment', however, Fusatarô went ahead and opened his store, as is clear from the San Francisco City Register of 1889, which records: "No. 10 Stockton Street, Nakagawa & Co. (owners U. Nakagawa and O.F. Takano) Japanese Goods Store.
   In other words, Fusatarô must have opened the store with capital shared jointly with a friend, and the fact that the store did not bear the Takano name means that most of the capital must have been provided by Nakagawa Usaburô. The location was a prime site, as Stockton Street was one of the streets that led into Union Square, the only large square in the central district at that time, and No.10 Stockton was close to the crossing with Market Street, the largest street in the city. It is not known for certain when the store was opened, but a date in May 1888 seems likely.Takano
   On May 13 Fusatarô had a photograph of himself taken, which he sent to his sister and her husband. His upright posture and eyes gazing full of hope into the distance present a bold image that commemorates the moment when the young man set out on his path to restore the fortunes of the Takano family, and it is thought that the photograph was included in a letter he sent to his family informing them of his new venture.

Why did Fusatarô go ahead and open a Japanese goods store in the full knowledge that it would be such a risky venture? One reason is that he had arrived at a point where he could no longer pull out. He had acquired money from his family and relatives and had purchased a large stock of goods. To pull out now would only leave him in debt.
    Another reason was his confidence, or more accurately, his overconfidence, in his own ability. He felt that he would be able to win through whatever the difficulties. He was an optimistic young man with a strong sense of self-belief. He had been carefully and lovingly brought up as the scion of a wealthy family, and had been successful in his studies, always a top flight student. Since stepping out into society, he had always stood out among his peers and had realized the ambition held by many of them to travel to America. Among the Japanese community on the West Coast he was known for fluency in English and had adapted smoothly to American society. "It might be difficult for others, but I can win through" - such would have been his feeling.

Something else that supported his optimistic outlook was his work for the Cosmopolitan Hotel as a guest-puller, a useful side job. The hotel was keen to attract Japanese guests and employed an English-speaking Japanese as 'guest-puller'. The work was unpaid but meals were provided and also accommodation in the hotel. It was only three times a month, when ships arrived from Japan, so it was easily possible to do the work and run a shop. In a city like San Francisco, where living costs were high, the fact that food and accommodation were guaranteed was a real plus.
    How then did Fusatarô intend to compete against the Chinese merchants with their low prices and extensive ranges of goods?  What he had in mind was as follows;

    The main approach to business prosperity followed by Japanese merchants in San Francisco or by those Japanese who were intending to start business there was to forget about competing in non-profit price wars and to try to keep prices low within a modest profit margin, to stick to this policy firmly within the business, and outside it, to focus solely on gaining and securing credibility with one's customers.
   On San Francisco's Market Street there was a man named George Marsh who had been selling Japanese goods for the past few years. He had encountered considerable obstacles after starting his business but had persevered and now enjoyed great credit with the public. His sales rose day after day and were a source of real envy among Japanese merchants. His prices were two or three times higher than theirs, but despite that, the one reason for his success was that his customers had trust in his business.
   Arguments against Chinese immigration were increasingly heard, to the point where there were few Americans who did not express a dislike for Chinese, so for a Japanese merchant to be able to win the trust of the public would be a tremendous achievement and would guarantee commercial success.

Sudden departure from San Francisco

Fusatarô's strategy in seeking to compete with the Chinese stores was to recognize that there was no prospect of winning a low-price war against them; instead, he would try to gain public trust and maintain the stability of his business by providing goods of superior quality. This approach shows his character, but to achieve it would obviously take time, at least two or three years. Clearly, he did not have the financial resources for such a long haul, and within not more than six months, Nakagawa & Co. were out of business. We can surmise this from a letter dated March 30, 1889 of Imanishi Kenji, who worked at the San Francisco branch of the Yokohama Specie Bank. It not only mentions the concerns of friends but requests the return of an advance payment.

    Since you left, I have received no word of your arrival and I have been so busy with various things that I have had no time to write until now. A few days ago, I happened to meet Messrs. Nakagawa and Fukazawa, and we spoke of you. They were extremely concerned for you. Since you left San Francisco, no-one had heard from you. Mr Fukazawa said that he had sent all newspapers and letters that had come for you from Japan to your address but that there had been no reply to say that they had been received. The rumor is that you may have met with an 'accident'. If you should happen to read this letter, please reply as soon as you are able.
    I was recently transferred to our New York office. I was replaced here by Tatsumi Takanojô, whom you know and who has already arrived. I shall be leaving in the middle of April. In that connection, I should like to enquire as to the completion of your monthly payments regarding your books and clothes, with which you entrusted us on your departure. Payment for the books has already been completed. Of the total $40 for your clothes you yourself paid the first $10 and I took care of $15 of the other $30. The remaining $15 was to be paid over three months from next month. We shall dispose of the matter in accordance with your instructions. As you know, I am burdened with my own debts, and I would ask you to remit the money which I have paid on your behalf until now. The amount is as follows:
      Books    $3
      Clothes  $15
   However, you deposited $5 at the time of your departure. This leaves $13 outstanding.

Imanishi had been a friend of Fusatarô's since their Yokohama days. From the fact that Nakagawa's name is mentioned among those concerned about Fusatarô, it can be deduced that the two business partners had not fallen out. It can be deduced from this letter that Fusatarô must have left San Francisco before March, and at the earliest, at the end of the previous year.

What then were the causes of his business failure? The main reason was most likely the high business rent of the property. To rent a prime piece of San Francisco business real estate at that time would have required at least $100-150 a month, payment of which would have necessitated sales many times greater than that amount, but the goods he had procured on his short trip back to Japan had been worth only $100. His business partner may also have obtained a supply of goods, but it is doubtful that the total stock was sufficient to provide income to offset the high rent, payment of which and other expenses called for a substantially large supply of new capital. America was also in something of a slump just at that time, and the situation did not favor a store selling luxury Japanese goods. To encounter such an economic climate on opening a new business was unfortunate, but it cannot be denied that to dare to start up in those conditions nevertheless showed a lack of judgment on Fusatarô's part.
    Furthermore, at a time when there was no room for maneuver in his finances and when he should have been saving all he could, he spent $40 on clothes. No doubt he felt that cutting a good style would make an impression on customers and help to gain their trust for the business, but would it be an exaggeration to say that this too shows a certain naiveté and vanity in his character?
    Another reason for the failure which cannot be overlooked is Fusatarô's complete lack of experience in selling anything. His only experience of the commercial world was the shipping agency business. He may have built up some experience in the export and import business but at actually selling goods he was a beginner. He had studied at commercial school, so he cannot be called a complete know-nothing, but those studies were of little use in his San Francisco store. He started out on the basis of a thorough study of the local environment and the competition, but actually running the business was another matter altogether, and it was his first time. This lack of experience was also a factor in the failure of the store.

The original book
    This is the English translation of the book   Rôdô wa shinsei nari ketsugô wa seiryoku nari; Takano Fusatarô to sono jidai,(Iwanami Shoten Publishers, 2008.), Chapter 4   Soko de Nihon zakka ten kaigyo - Yumeno jitsugen to hatan

Translated by Terry Boardman

   This file was last modified on:
January 21, 2015.

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