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Fabricating Consumers

The Sewing Machine in Modern Japan

Andrew Gordon

Publication Year: 2011

Since its early days of mass production in the 1850s, the sewing machine has been intricately connected with the global development of capitalism. Andrew Gordon traces the machine’s remarkable journey into and throughout Japan, where it not only transformed manners of dress, but also helped change patterns of daily life, class structure, and the role of women. As he explores the selling, buying, and use of the sewing machine in the early to mid-twentieth century, Gordon finds that its history is a lens through which we can examine the modern transformation of daily life in Japan. Both as a tool of production and as an object of consumer desire, the sewing machine is entwined with the emergence and ascendance of the middle class, of the female consumer, and of the professional home manager as defining elements of Japanese modernity.

Published by: University of California Press

Series: Asia: Local Studies / Global Themes

Title Page, Series Page, Copyright

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pp. 2-7


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pp. v-vi

List of Illustrations

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pp. vii-x

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pp. xi-xiv

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, ...

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pp. 1-10

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

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1. Meiji Machines

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pp. 13-29

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, ...

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2. The American Way of Selling

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pp. 30-56

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. ...

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3. Selling and Consuming Modern Life

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pp. 57-90

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. ...

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4. Resisting Yankee Capitalism

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pp. 91-116

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

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5. War Machines at Home

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pp. 119-150

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 ...

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6. Mechanical Phoenix

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pp. 151-185

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. ...

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7. A Nation of Dressmakers

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pp. 186-214

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. ...

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pp. 215-224

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

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pp. 225-228


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pp. 229-260

Select Bibliography

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pp. 261-270


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pp. 271-285

Production Notes

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p. 303-303

E-ISBN-13: 9780520950313
Print-ISBN-13: 9780520267855

Page Count: 304
Publication Year: 2011

Series Title: Asia: Local Studies / Global Themes