Butterfield & Swire Japan

Administrative / Biographical History

John Swire & Sons opened the Yokohama office near Tokyo in Japan in 1867 deeming the creation and maintenance of a house there as vital if Swire were ever to enter trans-Pacific trading route. This house sold goods such as cotton and woolens consigned to Butterfield & Swire by Barlows of Manchester, Novelli & Co, Dewhursts & Redman & Holt.

The company's business in Asia benefited greatly from Japan's restoration of the Meiji leadership in 1868. Under the Meiji, Japan became a modern industrial state. and the Yokohama office was ideally situated to take advantage of the growing strength of the Japanese economy.

The Company became agents for The China Navigation Company in 1883 when its regular services between Australia, foochow and Hong Kong weree extended to Japan, and for Alfred holt's Blue Funnel Line in 18888. In later years further offices were opened in Tokyo, Kobe and Osaka and additional shipping agencies , including Glen Line, Blue Sea Line, Crusader Shipping, Great Eastern Shipping, Matson Navigation, Bibby Lines, P&O Lines, Port Line, Shaw Savill Line, Eastern & Australian Line and British india Line. Initially dependent on the textile trade, the Yokohama house began importing large quantities of sugar from Hong Kong and Taiwan in addition to soya beancake from China. Swire also handled Japanese exports of rice to Australia. In 1887 the company opened a second Japanese office in Kobe followed by another in Osaka, and ine in Nagoya in 1965. Each office was responsible for local shipping matters.

Swire's operations were paralyzed in 1937 when Japan launched its war of expansion against China. The company's interests in northern China and Shanghai were closed. Japanese landings on either side of the Hongkong peninsula isolated the colony from the nearby Chinese city of Guangzhou (Canton), forcing Swire to curtail virtually all of its trading operations with the mainland. On December 1, 1941, six days before the attack on Pearl Harbor, Japanese troops invaded Hong Kong. During the Japanese occupation all of Swire's Far Eastern activities were suspended. By the time of the Japanese surrender in September 1945 more than half of Swire's ships, the sugar refinery, and the dockyard had been destroyed.during the 1950s.

Shipping offices in Japan were reopened in 1974; Butterfield & Swire in Hong Kong was renamed John Swire & Sons (H.K.) Ltd. and the name Butterfield was also dropped from correspondence with the Japan houses. They no longer have an office in Japan.

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