The Japanese Invasion

The U.S. trade deficit and America’s reliance on foreign-made goods is a topic frequently

discussed in the late 1980s. But the problem of foreign competition in the marketplace is by

no means new. In the late 1890s, U. S. producers worried about “the Japanese Invasion.” An

article in the Nebraska Trade Journal presented facts “which give occasion for serious


“American manufacturers are now confronted with the startling fact that Japan is invading

this country with the products of her cheap labor, and is making such inroads on the commercial

trade as to seriously threaten their very existence. This new and aggressive invasion

commenced a few weeks ago, when the agent of a powerful manufacturing and commission

house whose headquarters are in Kobe arrived in San Francisco, and offered such

inducements to the merchants that they were compelled to place large orders with the new

commercial giant. A canvass of the San Francisco mercantile trade reveals the fact that an

unprecedented cut in almost every line of staple goods has been made by the oriental bidder.

“Buttons by the great gross are delivered duty free at a fraction less than the actual cost per

gross of the American article. Bicycles guaranteed equal to the best high grade are listed at

$12. Japanese matches to be laid down at a price which is destined to close every match

factory in the United States. Sashes, doors, blinds, and all kinds of woodenware can be delivered,

duty paid, at 30 to 50 per cent less than the wholesale price of local manufacturers.

Boots, shoes, clothing, watches, hardware, fancy goods, and notions are also quoted at a

similar reduction.

“This is one of the beauties of the democratic idea that free trade is a blessing. It throws the

American laborer in direct competition with the cheap Japanese laborer who feels himself

princely if paid 10 cents a day. If the present tariff act is allowed to remain, American

manufacturers will either be compelled to shut up shop or cut the wages of American labor to

a point where competition with Japan can be maintained successfully.

“It is a mistaken idea to believe that protection of our home industries is a dead issue, when

we have such threatening death blows aimed at our industrial supremacy as now confronts us

from the Orientals. The native genius and cunning of the Japanese make them the peer of any

artisan as artisans and mechanics, and they are just finding out their ability to build up the

manufacturing interests of their country at the expense of the United States, and the salvation

of the American laborer rests in a protective policy that will shut out the products of pauper

labor countries.”

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