Japanese Embassy visiting Burton brewery in 1872

Written by: Kume Kunitake


japan-risingThe Japanese Iwakura Embassy of 1871-73 was among the first official contacts that pre-industrial Japan had with the outside world. Here, having visited the US, the Embassy visits Burton-on-Trent in Britain, a town famous for its beer (Bass being the most recognizable). They visited the Allsopp brewery, a major operation, which merged several times in the subsequent century, eventually becoming a part of Allied. Here are trip diarist Kume Kunitake’s impressions of the brewing operation, and how Japan could leverage an understanding of the market.

November 1st, 1872. Cloudy; a little rain.

…we travelled across Derbyshire. The countryside was all flat, and after forty-four miles we arrived at Burton-on-Trent, a town in Staffordshire, where beer was brewed. We alighted here to visit one of the breweries.

The Allsopp family’s brewery was a very large concern, occupying almost the whole town. They had arranged for a meal to be prepared and, after meeting us at the station, entertained us to lunch in the board-room. After lunch we went to the brewery, which occupied about fifty acres. It was like a small town in itself: the site was criss-crossed by twelve miles of roadway. Since we could not have visited the whole brewery on foot in half a day, a railway wagon had been carpeted and provided with seats to convey us along tracks inside the premises. After a quick tour of the different parts of the brewery, we were shown, briefly, the brewing process. Below ground level were the cellars, where there were a total of 10,000 casks. We were told that these would all be dispatched in the coming month, and that some of them would even find their way to Japan.

As the people of a country become more enlightened and more prosperous, so they develop a taste for ever finer beverages. There is a theory, therefore, that the volume of beverages consumed indicates the level of civilisation of a country, a view which would seem to be supported by the fact that at present the consumption of beverages in Europe is indeed extremely high. There are various kinds of beverages: tea, coffee, beer, wine and spirits. These, together with tobacco and sugar, are called ‘trade goods’ and are all heavily taxed. The fact that the consumption of beverages increases as the wealth and the level of enlightenment of a country rise is a natural law. Fermented beverages made from grain arecalled ‘beer’; those made from the juices of fruits are called ‘wine’. Both are drunk as everyday accompaniments to meals. When these are subjected to distillation, they are converted to ardent spirits. These are drunk only in small quantities before meals except by those with a constant craving for alcohol. It is only on excessive drinking, and on the habitual drinking of spirits, that Westerners place restrictions. Japanese sake is also a kind of beer. However, sake does not as yet appeal to the palates of Westerners. The appreciation of beverages is something which advances with civilisation, and it is a universal human propensity to appreciate exotic flavours. If in the future, therefore, we refine our methods of brewing sake and are able to build up a trade in it, there is no doubt that it could become one of our export goods.

Soya sauce is a brewed condiment. The Dutch sent it to Europe and it is appreciated in the Germanic lands. The British also enjoy it. Mirin, which is a kind of sweet sake, is also beneficial as a flavouring for food. The art of brewing is thus one in which Japan is highly skilled. The European countries which brew the largest amounts of beer are Britain, Germany, Austria and Belgium. All of them devote much effort to this industry, and the size of this brewery alone is enough to demonstrate how huge an industry it is. Therefore, we ought to examine carefully the particulars of the consumption of beverages and give attention to Japan’s exports of such products.

We caught a train at half past five and arrived at the station in Birmingham at ten past seven. The mayor was at the station to welcome us. We took rooms at the Queen’s Hotel.

~This excerpt comes from Japan Rising, a selection of Kume’s journal entries showing the industrial West through the eyes of a pre-industrial Japanese Embassy.

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About the Author: Kume Kunitake

Kume Kunitake was the personal secretary of Prince Iwakura, and a Confucian scholar whose correspondence is compiled within Japan Rising: The Iwakura Embassy to the USA and Europe (2009)....

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