The Sewing Machine in Modern Japan
Publication Year: 2011
Published by: University of California Press
Title Page, Series Page, Copyright
List of Illustrations
Over the past decade, I have been working on this history of the selling, buying, and using of the household sewing machine in Japan. As I pursued this project, I was impressed to learn in conversations with numerous friends and colleagues how common it had been to own a Singer sewing machine, ...
More than a decade ago, while researching for a book on the postwar Japanese labor movement, I ran across a surprising fact of daily life that lodged in my mind. The decision to look into the history of the sewing machine and eventually to write this book began with an attempt to make sense of this datum: ...
Part One: Singer in Japan
1. Meiji Machines
In 1841 five fishermen were caught in a storm and shipwrecked on a small island more than two hundred miles from their home in Japan. Close to starvation, they were rescued six months later by an American whaler and brought to Hawaii. The youngest of the group, age fourteen and possessed only of the given name Manjirō, ...
2. The American Way of Selling
When the Singer Sewing Machine Company entered the Japanese market in earnest in 1900, it brought a half-century of experience as “the world’s first successful multinational company.”1 Founded in 1851 by Isaac Merritt Singer, the company focused on world markets and household users from the outset. ...
3. Selling and Consuming Modern Life
The Singer Corporation in the first decades of the new century established itself as a pioneer in selling mass-produced, brand-name goods in Japan. As it did so, its sales force and teachers and their customers, together with magazine editors, educators, and state officials who mediated their interaction, gave multiple meanings to the sewing machine. ...
4. Resisting Yankee Capitalism
From late summer of 1932 through the following winter, employees of the Singer Sewing Machine Company organized two labor disputes. The violence and the anti-American focus of the second made it news “fit to print” prominently in the New York Times, unprecedented for a labor struggle in prewar Japan.1 ...
Part Two: Sewing Modernity in War and Peace
5. War Machines at Home
Rates of sewing machine ownership more than doubled over the 1930s, reaching nearly one in ten households by the decade’s end. Demand remained strong into the early 1940s. The enduring desire for this good and for the Western-style dress that it fabricated reflected the force of a modern spirit that for several decades had embraced technologies ...
6. Mechanical Phoenix
Among many stories marking the fiftieth anniversary of the end of World War II, the Asahi in August | ran a feature on reporters who told the story of the atomic bomb. It focused on Kusakabe Hisajirō, the Nagasaki bureau chief of its competitor paper, the Mainichi. ...
7. A Nation of Dressmakers
As Japanese producers rebuilt their industry, the several hundred thousand women whose sewing machines had been destroyed during the war offered a ready initial source of demand, but the subsequent takeoff in sales was fueled by millions of new buyers. ...
A book focused on a single place inevitably invites the expectation of a singular story. What was “Japanese” about sewing machines in Japan? That question was raised in one way or another on almost every occasion when I described this project in the making. ...
Appendix: Some Notes on Time-Use Studies