This is a very innovative scholarly monograph that links the book Earthquake Nation by Gregory Clancey’s and an analysis of how technology was transferred in Meiji Japan from mid-nineteenth century to the present. Most studies on technological development in Japan focus on the technical and economic aspects of the issues. David Wittner’s book however is different in that it adds political and ideological factors in Meiji government’s work in selection of industrial technologies between 1870s and 1880s. Winter sets out his objectives in the introduction of his book and in the subsequent chapters contributes to each objective to successfully build an argument presented at the start.
Chapter 3 and chapter 4 are the heart of the book. Chapter 3 gives the accounts of “Iron Machines and Brick Buildings” while chapter 4 discusses on “Smelting for Civilization” in a detailed manner (Wittner p. 79). In chapter 5 Wittner rounds up his account of the Meiji experiments with state-owned enterprises and then connects the first three decades of Meiji period as a time of national identity formation in Japan and a time when Japanese attached itself to imported technology. The author has exhaustively carried out extensive research not only for Japanese language materials but also Japanese ones and provides impressive illustrations of indigenous western-styled raw-silk packaging labels and reeling machines used then.
David G. Wittner in his work has concentrated in technology transfer in Meiji silk era as well as developments of the iron industries at the time (Wittner p. 25). He discusses raw silk as the country’s top export product in a comprehensive manner. Wittner has successfully developed the concept of "cultural materiality" in his work. He has accomplished this by using two projects namely Tomioka Silk Filature and Kamaishi Ironworks. These were the two major enterprises Meiji government’s officials established between 1870 and 1875.
According to winter’s argument, the government’s choice of reeling technologies was guided by a “progress ideology”. He associates the early Meiji industrialization as part of the “civilization and enlightenment” movement (bunmei kaika) (Wittner p. 15) unlike many other scholars who have associated it with intellectual and sociocultural developments. Wittner notes that as the bunmei kaika movement disintegrated in the 1880s, state enterprises such as Kamaishi were sold to private parties in this period not merely for financial gains but from the belief in a historical civilization development structure (Wittner p. 1). Wittner says that by this time the Meiji government had reached a level of self-reliance and confidence that it no longer saw the need to establish and maintain western culture based industrial “icons” (Wittner p. 8).
My own evaluation of the book is that the author has done a commendable job. He has provided a convincingly comprehensive explanation of the developments of technology and the culture in Meiji Japan from the mid-nineteenth century and the present. He has achieved this by an in-depth discussion on the creation of state-owned enterprises and by developing the concept of "cultural materiality" that captures the development of Meiji Japan identity through technology. It has many positive points where the author shed new light by focusing on ideology about the less-studied Kamaishi Ironworks and Tomioka Silk Filature (Wittner p. 52).
The only negative points I have identified are in chapter five where the author rounds out his explanation on Kamaishi Ironworks (Wittner p. 118). According to my evaluation some of the points raised here need more clarification. For example he maintains that government officials, ignored expert advice given them in their ironworks planning but instead adopted what to them were the more reasonable methods for the wrong reasons (Wittner p. 7). However, the author does not tell us much about the reasonable methods they adopted nor the reasons they chose them as he has done for the Tomioka rellers.
Wittner, David G. Technology and the Culture of Progress in Meiji Japan, New York: Routledge; 1st edition (December 27, 2007).