Anecdotes of Yokohama (2)
How Siber and gas lights appeared in Japanese literature
Hisatsugu Shiba, CGD YOK
This issue has to do with the book, "The Master Prophet's secret" written by Akimitsu Takagi and published by the KAPPA BOOKS, noted for bringing out numerous best-sellers. Born in 1920, author Akimitsu Takagi graduated from Metallurgical Dep., Kyoto University, and has become famous as a unique mystery writer. He has been awarded in to the "Detective Story Writers' prize".
The SiberHegner News No. 45 of February 1986 has already given a brief account of SiberHegner 's participation together with Kaemon Takashima, for installing street lamps in Yokohama, in 1872. The original story appeared in the "History of Yokohama Gas Works" by Yokohama Gas Co., Ltd. (was known as Tokyo Gas Co., Ltd.). As so happens that Kaemon Takashima, earlier referred to a "prominent and influenced businessman", was also the founder and Master of fortune telling. Fate and destiny seem have played a major role in prophesying the future of a project or venture during the early stage of Japan's modernisation program. lt is possible that the City fathers of Yokohama relied heavily on Kaemon Takashima for his "sound advice". His name still lives on in the street-name "Takashima-cho" near Yokohama Station.
The novel, first published in 1979, states as follows: It is noteworthy that Kaemon Takashima had participated in a number of business ventures in Yokohama during the early part of the Meiji era (1868-1913), namely harbour reclaiming, construction of .the first railway (eventually taken over by the Government), mining, building the British Embassy, the Swiss Consulate, foreign residences, entering into the hotel business, ocean transport, etc.
In reference to the installation of gas lights in Yokohama, Kaemon Takashima writes in his memoirs; "I pondered over this project all night and decided to do some fortune-telling on the project early next morning, when I received an urgent message saying that the Swiss Consul "Branorudo" (for Brennwald) as he is known among the Japanese, wanted to see me right away. The words "gas-light works" flashed through my mind. I and my interpreter made a dash for the Swiss Consulate where I was warmly received by Caspar Brennwald. The Swiss Consul had already been advised by a circular regarding the City's invitation for a tender for gas light works.
Caspar Brennwald told Kaemon Taskashima; "If you will agree to the terms and conditions I have in my mind, I will see that you will come out as the successful bidder."
"What exactly are your terms?" Kaemon Takashima asked. "My terms are that you will buy from me a complete set of gas works, including various pipings, equipment, gas lamps, etc." replied Caspar Brennwald.
The terms having been met, Caspar Brennwald wired to H. Pelegrin, a French gas engineer, residing in Shanghai, to visit him right away. Kaemon Takashima handed over to the French engineer $100,000 as deposit for the purchase of the gas plant from England, where he was despatched.
The novel states that Kaemon Takashima had a hand in installing gaslights along Ginza, Tokyo in 1874. If so, it is possible that, as in the case of Yokohama, Siber & Brennwald could have played a role in introducing gaslights in Tokyo as well.
One day, I visited the Kanagawa Prefectural Library, located atop as small hill just west of the Sakuragi-cho railway station to check further into the "History of Yokohama Gaslights". Incidentally, the Sakuragicho station was the very first station to be built in Yokohama when Japan's railway system was opened for service between Tokyo and Yokohama.
The "History of Yokohama Gaslights" explain in detail the circumstances surrounding the installation of the gaslights. For instance, gaslight equipment imported by Siber & Brennwald was shipped to Japan from Glasgow by steamer through the Suez Canal, which had just opened for navigation in 1869. The book offers important data on the trade conditions that existed then and will be introduced to our readers in further detail, if possible. Shipment was delayed for some reason, but Yokohama saw its first gas lamps burning in Fall 1872 when the railway system was introduced into Japan for the first time. That was sixty years after the World's first gasworks were established in London.
Flipping over the pages, I came across a passage written in classical Japanese, which made reading somewhat difficult, but was able to make out that the Tokyo Metropolitan Government paid Siber & Brennwald for the purchase of gaslight installations. lt shows that Siber & Brennwald had contributed to the introduction of gas installations in Tokyo as well as Yokohama. The Yokohama Gas Works subsequently merged with its Tokyo counterpart and is known as Tokyo Gas Co., Ltd.
Incidentally, the site around Takashima-cho was converted to Yokohama Expo 89 and is earmarked for another event - the "MM21" (Minato Mirai 21), or "The 21st Century Harbor". A super project is now under study and Mitsubishi Real Estate plans to build by 1993, a 296-meter high, 70-story edifice, the tallest building in Japan. A new era is about to dawn on this port city.
My third contribution will deal with SiberHegner's role on matters concerning international affairs in Yokohama.
Source: SiberHegner News No. 61, Summer 1990