The cotton plant principally cultivated in Japan is of the species known as Gossypium herbaceum, resembling that of India, China, and Egypt. The plant is of short stature, seldom attaining a growth of over two feet; the flower is deciduous, with yellow petals and purple center, and the staple is short, but fine. It is very widely cultivated in Japan, and is produced in thirty-seven out of the forty-four prefectures forming the empire, but the best qualities and largest quantities are grown in the southern maritime provinces of the mainland and on the islands of Kiusiu and Shikoku. Vice consul Longford, in his last report, says that the plant is not indigenous to Japan, the seed having been first imported from China in the year 1558. There are now many varieties of the original species, and the cultivation of the plant varies in its details in different localities. The variations are, however, mostly in dates, and the general grinding principles of the several operations are nearly the same throughout the whole country. The land best suited for cotton growing is one of a sandy soil, the admixture of earth and sand being in the proportion of two parts earth to one of sand. During the winter and spring months, crops of wheat or barley are raised on it, and it is when these crops have attained their full height during the month of May that the cotton is sown.
About fifty days prior to the sowing a manure is prepared consisting of chopped straw, straw ashes, green grass, rice, bran, and earth from the bottom of the stagnant pools. These ingredients are all carefully mixed together in equal proportions, and the manure thus made is allowed to stand till required for use. Ten days before the time fixed for sowing, narrow trenches, about one inch in depth, are dug in the furrows, between the rows of standing wheat or barleys and the manure is liberally sprinkled along them by hand. For one night before sowing the seed is steeped in water. It is then taken out, slightly mixed with straw ashes, and sown in the trenches at intervals of a few inches. When sown, it is covered with earth to the depth of half an inch, and gently trampled down by foot. Four or five days after sowing, the buds begin to appear above the earth, and almost simultaneously the wheat or barley between which they grow is ripe for the sickle. While the latter is being harvested, the cotton may be left to itself, but not for very long. The buds appear in much larger numbers than the soil could support if they were allowed to grow. They have accordingly to be carefully thinned out, so that not more than five or six plants are left in each foot of length.
The next process is the sprinkling of a manure composed of one part night soil and three parts water, and again, subsequent to this, there are two further manurings; one of a mixture of dried sardines, lees of oil, and lees of rice beer, which is applied about the middle of June, when the plant has attained a height of four inches; and again early in July, when the plant has grown to a height of six or seven inches, a further manuring of night soil, mixed with a larger proportion of water than before. At this stage the head of the plant is pinched off with the fingers, in order to check the excessive growth of the stem, and direct the strength into the branches, which usually number five or six. From these branches minor ones spring, but the latter are carefully pruned off as they appear. In the middle of August the flowers begin to appear gradually. They fall soon after their appearance, leaving in their place the pod or peach (momo), which, after ripening, opens in October by three or four valves and exposes the cotton to view. The cotton is gathered in baskets, in which it is allowed to remain till a bright, sunshiny day, when it is spread out on mats to dry and swell in the sun for two or three days. After drying, the cotton is packed in bags made of straw matting, and either sold or put aside until such time as the farmer's leisure from other agricultural operations enables him to deal with it. The average yield of cotton in good districts in Japan is about 120 lb. to the acre, but as cotton is only a secondary crop, this does not therefore represent the whole profit gained by the farmer from his land. The prefectures in which the production is largest are Aichi on the east coast, Osaka, Hiogo, Hiroshima, and Yamaguchi on the inland sea, and Fukui and Ishikawa on the west coast. Vice-consul Longford says that the manufacture of cotton in Japan is still in all its stages largely a domestic one. Gin, spindle, and loom are all found in the house of the farmer on whose land the cotton is grown, and not only what is required for the wants of his own family is spun and woven by the female members thereof, but a surplus is also produced for sale.
Several spinning factories with important English machinery have been established during the last twenty years, but Consul Longford says that he has only known of one similar cotton-weaving factory, and that has not been a successful experiment. Other so called weaving factories throughout the country consist only of a collection of the ordinary hand looms, to the number of forty or fifty, scarcely ever reaching to one hundred, in one building or shed, wherein individual manufacturers have their own special piece goods made.
The first operation in the manufacture is that of ginning, which is conducted by means of a small implement called the rokuro, or windlass. This consists of two wooden rollers revolving in opposite directions, fixed on a frame about 12 inches high and 6 inches in width, standing on a small platform, the dimensions of which slightly exceed that of the frame. The operator, usually a woman, kneels on one side of the frame, holding it firm by her weight, works the roller with one hand, and with the other presses the cotton, which she takes from a heap at her side, between the rollers. The cotton passes through, falling in small lumps on the other side of the frame, while the seeds fall on that nearest the woman. The utmost weight of unginned cotton that one woman working an entire day of ten hours can give is from 8 lb. to 10 lb., which gives, in the end, only a little over 3 lb. weight of ginned cotton, and her daily earnings amount to less than 2d. A few saw gins have been introduced into Japan during the last fifteen years, but no effort has been made to secure their distribution throughout the country districts. After ginning, a certain proportion of the seed is reserved for the agricultural requirements of the following year, and the remainder is sent to oil factories, where it is pressed, and yields about one-eighth of its capacity in measurement in oil, the refuse, after pressing, being used for manure.
The ginning having been finished in the country districts, the cotton is either packed in bales and sent to the dealers in the cities, or else the next process, that of carding, is at once proceeded with on the spot.
This process is almost as primitive as that of the ginning. A long bamboo, sufficiently thin to be flexible, is fastened at its base to a pillar or the corner of a small room. It slopes upward into the center of the room, and from its upper end a hempen cord is suspended. To this is fastened the "bow," an instrument made of oak, about five feet in length, two inches in circumference, and shaped like a ladle. A string of coarse catgut is tightly stretched from end to end of the bow, and this is beaten with a small mallet made of willow, bound at the end with a ring of iron or brass. The raw cotton, in its coarse state, is piled on the floor just underneath the string of the bow. The string is then rapidly beaten with the mallet, and as it rises and falls it catches the rough cotton, cuts it to the required degree of fineness, removes impurities from it, and flings it to the side of the operator, where it falls on a hempen net stretched over a four-cornered wooden frame. The spaces of the net are about one-quarter of an inch square, and through these any particles of dust that may still have adhered to the cotton fall to the floor, leaving piled on top of the net the pure cotton wool in its finished state.
This work is always performed by a man, and by assiduous toil throughout a long day, one man can card from ten to twenty pounds weight of raw cotton. Payment is made in proportion to the work done, and in the less remote country districts is at the rate of about one penny for each pound carded. As regards spinning and weaving, in the first of these branches of cotton manufacture the Japanese have largely had recourse to the aid of foreign machinery, but it is still to a much greater extent a domestic industry, or at best carried on like weaving in the establishments of cotton traders, in which a number of workers, varying from 20 to 100 or more, each with his own spinning wheel, are collected together. Consul Longford says the spinning wheel used in Japan differs in no respect from that used in the country 300 years ago or (except that bamboo forms an integral part of the materials of which it is made) from that used in England prior to the invention of the jenny. The cost of one of the wheels is about 9d., it will last for five or six years, and with it a woman of ordinary skill can spin about 1 lb. of yarn in a day of ten hours, earning thereby about 2d. There are at present in various parts of Japan, in all, 21 spinning factories worked by foreign machinery.
Of four of these there is no information, but of the remainder, one has 120 spindles; eleven, 2,000 spindles; two, 3,000 spindles; two, 4,000 spindles; and one, 18,000 spindles. - Journal Soc. of Arts.
[Continued from SUPPLEMENT, No. 612, page 9774.]