On November 15, 1873, a lone Frenchman arrived at the port of Yokohama, a month and a half after departing from Paris. His name: Bruno Louis Larroque (1836–1883). The 39 year-old Frenchman was commissioned by Saihei Hirose (1828–1914), manager of the Besshi mine, to modernize the mine. Larroque’s arrival was greatly anticipated.
Larroque came to Japan in a time of tremendous change. The country was in the process of developing a centralized government and market economy. In Part VI of this series, we explained how Sumitomo’s operations were affected by these turbulent times, and how the Besshi mine was plagued by problems similar to those faced by most mines of its age, resulting from years of mining activity. These included difficulties in procuring fuel and other mining resources, lower grades of ore, and increased water seepage as mineshafts grew deeper.
In September 1871, Hirose had received an appointment penned directly by Tomochika Sumitomo (1843–1890), the 12th Sumitomo patriarch, that entrusted him with the authority to modernize the Besshi mine. At that time, commissioning a foreigner was a lengthy and complicated process, one that took over two years for Hirose to complete. Hirose submitted an application to the national government, consulted with a French company located in Yokohama about whom to choose, visited Tokyo to implore government officials to approve the application, and held repeated negotiations to reach a contractual agreement.
Sumitomo was not alone in calling on a foreign national to effect modernization.
Japan’s government invited hundreds of foreign nationals in an effort to hasten the process of modernization by acquiring advanced knowledge and technologies directly. Foreigners were offered handsome salaries to advise on politics, economics, law, military, industry, education, and other areas of vital importance to a modern nation. Known as Oyatoi Gaikokujin in Japanese, these advisors came primarily from England, Germany, France, and the United States. During the two years of 1874 and 1875, roughly the same time that Larroque was in Japan, the national government employed 520 advisors. Adding those employed by prefectural governments and private enterprises, this number grows to over 600.
Larroque was charged with conducting inspections and preparing an estimate for the modernization of the Besshi mine. During the 22-month contract period, Larroque surveyed approximately 165,000m² of mining areas and prepared a realistic, detailed, and forward-looking report. Hirose was delighted with the report’s thoroughness and gave Larroque the highest praise. Upon finishing his job and fulfilling his contract, Larroque expressed concern that perhaps such a major undertaking would be too difficult for the Japanese to complete on their own. He recommended that his contract be renewed. Hirose, however, being well versed in the mining business and having spent his life since age 11 at the Besshi mine, made the bold choice to proceed without foreign help. Hirose then set out to modernize the Besshi mine. He sent two Sumitomo employees to attend a mining school in France and moved swiftly to introduce new machinery like steam engines, ro ck drills, and windlasses. These efforts yielded results and the mine’s performance gradually improved. By 1888, the mine was recording the highest copper output in the nearly 200-year history since mining operations began in 1691.
All over Japan, spinning mills, shipyards, ironworks, mines, and other government-run facilities built under the guidance of foreign engineers began operations. Such industries were at the forefront of bringing modern technologies from overseas to Japan.
In the roughly 30-year period from the Meiji Restoration to the century’s end, Sumitomo as well as the nation acquired knowledge and technologies brought by foreign nationals, and stored up energy for the coming century of industrialization.