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Fabricating Consumers

Fabricating Consumers: The Sewing Machine in Modern Japan

Andrew Gordon
Copyright Date: 2012
Edition: 1
Pages: 304
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  • Book Info
    Fabricating Consumers
    Book Description:

    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.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-95031-3
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. vii-x)
  4. Preface
    (pp. xi-xiv)
  5. Introduction
    (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: married women in 1950s Japan, each and every day, devoted more than two hours to sewing. The path from surprise and curiosity toward a set of worthwhile historical questions has been meandering. New concerns emerged along the way, while the matter of time...


    • CHAPTER 1 Meiji Machines
      (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, stood out as curious and smart. He was befriended by the ship’s captain, and in the spring of 1843 he was brought for a proper Christian education to Fairhaven, Massachusetts, next to the whaling port of New Bedford, and renamed John Manjiro. After...

    • CHAPTER 2 The American Way of Selling
      (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 house-hold users from the outset. By 1864, exports accounted for 40 percent of the machines it sold. By 1880, Singer claimed almost half of the global sewing machine market. Its world wide sales that year surpassed five hundred thousand units. By the eve of World War I, shipping its product from factories in the United States (New Jersey), Scotland,...

    • CHAPTER 3 Selling and Consuming Modern Life
      (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. They linked it to changes in women’s habits of dress and their roles in the family and wider economy. They discussed it in debates over women’s contribution to progress and the modern nation. Various mediators were far from united in their views. Some sewing teachers argued...

    • CHAPTER 4 Resisting Yankee Capitalism
      (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 theNew York Times,unprecedented for a labor struggle in prewar Japan.¹ Salaried employees led the first action. Some of them took part in the much larger second dispute, as did managers and sellers in some of Singer’s provincial shops. But the main body of protesters in the second dispute was the selling corps of branch managers, salesmen, and installment collectors in Tokyo,...


    • CHAPTER 5 War Machines at Home
      (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 and life ways identified with the West in general and America in particular. Unfolding from the late 1930s, a drive to reform both men’s and women’s dress reflected the ongoing and related search for a Japanese-inflected modern life. As both object of desire and...

    • CHAPTER 6 Mechanical Phoenix
      (pp. 151-185)

      Amongmany storiesmarking the fiftieth anniversary of the end of World War II, theAsahiin August 1995 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, theMainichi.Kusakabe lived with his wife of one month, Toshiko, in an apartment behind the paper’s office, sufficiently distant from the epicenter for the two of them to survive by diving into their air raid shelter just as the blast blew the roof off the office. Fifty years later, Kusakabe vividly recalled his frustration at the...

    • CHAPTER 7 A Nation of Dressmakers
      (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. What enabled this surge appears inevitable in retrospect, but was not obviously in the offing at the time: the breaking of a demand-side bottleneck. Before and during the war, themishinmarket had been constricted by the still modest spread of Western dress to adult Japanese women, which limited the interest in Western sewing and sewing machines.

      The breakthrough took...

  8. Conclusion
    (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. I conclude with two answers. Not as much as the question seems to hope or imply. And what is more interesting and important is the way in which so many of those elements that do seem particular to Japan were not so much made in Japan as forged by many hands in global interactions. The circulation...

  9. APPENDIX: Some Notes on Time-Use Studies
    (pp. 225-228)
  10. Notes
    (pp. 229-260)
  11. Select Bibliography
    (pp. 261-270)
  12. Index
    (pp. 271-285)
  13. Back Matter
    (pp. 286-286)