Waterworks

14 Dec 18
English
Each month the Bank’s Archivist will share a story from the Archives Collection 2018 marks the 150th anniversary of the Meiji Restoration, which marked a turning point in Japan’s modern history. As the year draws to an end, it is a fitting time to revisit the history of this period, and explore how HSBC acted as a bridge between Japan and international capital. In 1868 the Tokugawa shogunate, the samurai-led government ruling Japan for more than 250 years, returned power to the Meiji Emperor. Known as the Meiji Restoration, it led Japan to embark on an era of rapid industrialisation and Westernisation in the hope of transforming the formerly feudal,semi-isolated country into a modern nation capable of competing with the West. Sensing a promising market, HSBC entered Japan even before the Meiji Restoration. In 1866, just one year after it was established in Hong Kong, the Bank opened a branch at 62 Yamashita-Cho in the port of Yokohama, as shown in this sketch collected in the Archives. The bulk of HSBC’s early business came from financing Japan’s international trade, especially its exports of silk that was highly prized around the world. By the end of 1879, many of the foreign banks operating in the country had to close their offices because of operational difficulties, paving the way for HSBC to gradually expand businesses through setting up new offices in Kobe in 1870, Osaka in 1872 and Nagasaki in 1896. Sketch of the Yokohama branch, 1866 Japan implemented major monetary reforms in 1870s. In the hope of bringing monetary stability, the government officiated the Japanese yen as Japan’s national currency in 1871 and established a national banking system in the following year. The new currency needed international recognition for adoption and circulation, and that’s where HSBC came into play – the Bank accepted the yen in all its branches, which was crucial in convincing the international community to adopt the currency. In return, the Japanese government deposited 300,000 yen with the Bank, interest free for three years. From the late 19th century to the early 20th century, the Japanese government actively encouraged foreign capital to finance industrial development. HSBC was heavily involved in the flotation of Japanese loans on the London market, which funded the modernisation of Japan with construction of railways, waterworks and harbours. The loan issued in 1905 was so popular that the Bank’s rugby team in London had to be called in to contain the crowds clamouring to invest. When the emperor passed away in 1912, Japan was acknowledged as a formidable power in East Asia – with HSBC being a key player supporting its financial infrastructure development along the way.
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