“History doesn’t repeat itself, but it does rhyme.”
— Mark Twain

Kazuo Ishiguro, the Toyoda Mills and Shanghai

Posted: October 6th, 2017 | 2 Comments »

So Kazuo Ishiguro has won the Nobel prize for literature. China Rhyming readers will all obviously know his Shanghai-set When We Were Orphans (2000) and know his screenplay for the Shanghai-set movie The White Countess (2006). Ishiguro’s link to Shanghai is that his Japanese grandfather worked for Toyota in Shanghai in the inter-war period and his father was born in the International Settlement. Toyota then was primarily a textiles company.

Toyota Textiles had a rather rocky ride in Shanghai. I’m not sure when Ishiguro’s grandfather arrived in Shanghai. Toyota Mills was first founded in Shanghai in 1920. During the communist-organized strike wave of 1925 in Shanghai Japanese workers were fired upon and the Toyota Textile Mill set alight. Toyota called for Japanese navy vessels to come to Shanghai to protect Japanese commercial interests. In 1925 Japan did not move gunboats to the Whangpoo – of course, at other times they would do just that. However, despite constant strike agitation and various anti-Japanese boycotts apparently the Toyota Textile mills were consistently profitable.

Toyota Textiles are often referred to as Toyoda – the Toyota company was started by the Toyoda family manufacturing automated looms for Japan’s weaving industry. The name change came about in 1936 and was to do with lucky 8s – the number of strokes to write Toyota in Japanese being eight. At its height Toyoda/Toyota Textiles in Shanghai had 40,000 spindles operating and 1,300 looms. They also got to take over the mills of the Chinese Rong family after they were confiscated by the Japanese military in 1937 and handed over to Toyoda (showing neatly the close links between the Japanese army and major corporations in the occupation of Shanghai). The mills were all out in the Western Roads District, the rather lawless Badlands area in the late 1930s and beyond the control of the Settlement authorities. ‘m not sure the actual mill address but I think they were up above what is now Zhongshan Park (formerly Jessfield Park) close to the banks of Soochow (Suzhou) Creek close to Robison Road (now Changshou Road). Toyoda also certainly had mills further to the north-west along Chungshan (or Chungsan sometimes) Road (today’s Chingshan North Road, by what is now the Inner Ring Elevated Road, north of Suzhou Creek in Chapei (Zhabei).

A Shanghai textile mill (but not Toyoda)

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2 Comments on “Kazuo Ishiguro, the Toyoda Mills and Shanghai”

  1. 1 Duncan Hewitt said at 1:26 am on October 7th, 2017:

    Didn’t know about the Ishiguro family’s Toyota connection – fascinating! There is a residential compound listed as having been for Toyota Spinning Mill managers on the corner of Yuyuan Lu and what is now Anxi Lu, not far from Jessfield/Zhongshan Park, and another compound of smaller cottages, presumably for lower level staff, on the opposite block of Anxi Lu nearer Changning Lu, along with what was once a school for children from the factory in between. (Perhaps inspired by this, Keiko Itoh describes a Japanese family living in a factory residential compound on Yuyuen Road – and buying Japanese food from a van that visited the street every week – in ‘My Shanghai 1942 -46’, her recent novel about the Japanese community in the city during the war.)

  2. 2 Beatrice Camp said at 11:35 pm on October 9th, 2017:

    When I was at the US Consulate in Shanghai I heard that the Toyoda family had once lived in what is now the consulate’s office on Huai Hai Lu.


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