Showing how extensively gas energy equipment was giving impact to Japanese people’s daily life in history
When the first “Street Gas Lamps” appeared in Yokohama and Tokyo in the early time of Meiji, many people would have been startled and also applauded in looking at these bright lights because they had been only known some dimmed oil candles or lanterns at nighttime. So, we can easily imagine how greatly people at that time were impressed by the new light source and how they see these glaring lamps as the “light of civilization” with feeling the new era having really arrived. Recently in the occasion I’ve heard there’s a museum to demonstrate these historic issues in Kodaira, named the “Gas Museum” which was set up by Tokyo Gas Co. in 1967. So I visited the Museum because I had some interest in the gas business as a modern energy source and its impact to the society in history.
When I visit, the museum is facilitated in two historic red brick buildings, one is for the exhibition of historical gas lamps and the other is for various old gas equipment. The former (Gas Lamp Pavilion) displays a variety of gas lamps used in the Meiji era as monumental exhibits, and the latter (Living Equipment Pavilion) has various gas stoves and kitchen utilities used in the Meiji, Taisho, and Showa eras. There, the numerous goods related to gas equipment such as gas cookware, gas heater, and industrial gas machines were orderly displayed there. Visitors can explore in the museum how lighting system has evolved, how home heating and cooking methods have been changing over the year.
Many street gas lamps used in the Meiji period can be also observed in the museum compound.
♣ Exhibition to display Retro gas lamps and Ukiyo-e pictures
First, when looking look at the “Gas Lamp” exhibition, we can see many rare illuminating “Gas Lamps” that were used first in Japan in the early Meiji period. Most of them were decorated ceiling lamps from Europe for furnishing a Western-type reception house “Rokumeikan” or other important public buildings, including “Upward arm gas lamp”, “Counterweight flexible lamp” made in UK”, “Hanagas lamp” that looks like fireworks, “Wall-mounted glass lamp” which were used in the middle of the Meiji era. Many lamps are still able to put on light now. The large gas chandelier withangel’s statue which had made in France in the 19th century is also available there. Further, in this Gas Lamp Pavilion, countless commentary boards are provided for giving information how gas as a light source was invented and became used, and how introduced in Japan. So the development background of the gas lamp can be understand well.
<Nishiki reflecting social change brought about by gas streetlight>
There are also many “Nishiki-e” woodblock paintings related to gas lamps on display which were drawn during the Meiji period. Looking at these paintings, we can feel how precious the gas lamps were at that time, and how the state of urban scene has changed in the Meiji era. These exhibits are really valuable for knowing the changes in social life during that time of period. Furthermore, in the museum yard, dozens of monumental “Street gas lamp” are placed that first appeared up in Yokohama, and Ginza Tokyo in the beginning of Meiji. This is regarded as the most important exhibit in the museum. In addition, valuable items of street gas lamp, such as the lamps of London and Paris in 19th century, are also exhibited in the compound.
♣ Living Equipment Pavilion where gas appliances are displayed
However, the gas lamp, which had been flourishing in the Meiji period, gradually turned to the electric lights as a source of lighting that invented by Edison due to the durability and lower costs of electric lamps. Under these circumstances, the gas supplying system were gradually shifted to use as heating sources. The “Living Equipment Pavilion” clearly show us this change. Here, we can learn how gas-fired appliances being accepted among Japanese people, and how gas appliances have made diversify our social life, what extent the technology development has transformed our household styles. Particularly notable changes would be the evolution of appliances in the kitchen woks and the heating system in the living conditions. And it can be seen in the exhibit that Japanese home life has revolutionary changed due to the spread of gas utilities from the period when firewood, charcoal, or ample furnaces were only available sources of heating and cooking. The exhibition also touches on the other field of usage of gas for industry which has greatly advanced over time and contributed to the modernization of industry as well.
< Changes in kitchen and heating appliances seen in the exhibition>
First of all, we can see a valuable exhibition in the old kitchenware in the pavilion, such as a Japanese-style gas furnace “Kamado”, “gas iron” that appeared in 1902, a Columbia-type two-mount clay cooking stove “Shichirinn” (1904) imported from the UK, etc. For the heating equipment, “open flame gas stove” (British made 1900s), Japanese unique gas brazier “Gas Hibachi” are the rare collection. These were very expensive ones at the time and could be affordable for wealthy class people only, but they gave a big impact to common people as well. However, as the time passes, these gas appliances were becoming spread in the urban communities, and gradually penetrated to general household as popular daily appliances. This changing situation is well reflected in a series of exhibitions categorized by year of used. For example, quick boiling “Hayawaki gas kettle” for baths in the early Showa era, a club shaped “Kani-type stove” for home use, “Tabletop handy stove” and others are found in the exhibition.
Becoming after the high-growth era after the War, various gas refrigerators, gas automatic rice cookers, gas stoves, gas bath kettles, etc. have appeared, and they became commonly used in the Japanese household. The technological evolution during this period is also remarkable. There it will be understood how the safe and stability of the heat appliance improved, the designs were upgrade, and the usage simplified. And people recognize now they become indispensable household items. On the other hand, it was a remarkable that equipment of gas has faced severe competition with electrical products and sought the way of coexistence with them at the same time appealing its features. And now both of them become indispensable two pillar of energy resources in the society.
♣ Changing gas production methods and gas raw materials
The changes in gas production and supply systems are extensively introduced in the exhibition. Initially, energy gas had been generated mainly by steaming and burning coal. Then many factories were set up for delivering them to various locations. However, since the 1960s, the gas generation has gradually turned to the extraction method from oil refining process, what’s called LP gas. And by this shift, the gas supplying capacity was dramatically increased to be able to cover wider areas.
However, on the other side, the building up of huge capacity tended to invite the environment problems because the smokes and residues from factories were causing serious land contamination and air pollution. Anyway, the expanded gas supplying system has popularized the gas equipment and improved a lot household work in the urban areas. That also bring a great benefit for residential in rural areas or people in remote areas as well. The appeared new gas service was a propane gas delivery in the container forms, and it greatly promoted to spread the gas equipment and beneficiated family life throughout Japan, particularly rural area.
Furthermore, since the latter half of the 1970s, with the advancement of marine technology and cooling facility, liquefied natural gas LNG has been born by being directly imported form the overseas resource site. Today most gas supplies are shifting to LNG. That led the dramatic increase supply capacity of gas too. It eventually contributed a lot to improve the efficiency as industrial energy sources, electric generation, and daily life purposes as well. These processes are explained well in detail in the “Living Equipment Pavilion”. It is interesting to look into the technological evolution of thermal energy sources and changes in daily heat equipment through exhibits
♣ Establishment of Tokyo Gas and significance of the business
The first gas lamp installation in Japan was started in 1872 by a businessman named Takashima Kaemon in Yokohama. (Takashima is also known as a founder of “Takashima fortune teller). Then, street gas lamps were lit in Ginza too in 1874 and Tokyo City Gas Bureau was designated to handle them (1976), and later, the private company “Tokyo Gas Company” was born by transfer the business in 1985. The company itself was actually by Eiichi Shibusawa and Soichiro Asano who recognized the gas installation as an important social infrastructure for the social civilization and industrial modernization in Meiji. In the beginning, the prime business was to build the gas supply network for the street lamp in major cities, which was mainly architect by an English engineer named Henri Brelan from England. He planned to build a factory in Kanesaigi-bashi, Tokyo, and delivered the gas to light the street gas lamps in Kyobashi and Ginza area. The company’s lighting business had been technically the “open flame gas lamps”. But soon later, with the “Incandescent gas mantle” technology (invented in 1886 by R. W. Bunsen) the illuminating power of gas lamp was greatly multiplied and the demand for gas lighting equipment was increased greatly. One of the companies that produced this mantle was Tokyo Gas Electric Industry (TGE), which later became Hino Motors.
<To expand and contract gas production plants>
Tokyo Gas Co. has enforced its business by merging other gas-related companies such as Chiyoda Gas in the process. Then, Tokyo Gas Co. initially vigorously set up gas factories in various locations such as Senju, Fukagawa, Kawasaki, Toyosu, and Tsurumi in order to supply resource gas to Tokyo Metropolitan area by using these factory networks. At first, the gas was produced mostly by the coal combustion methods. However, as I mentioned before, these factories were beginning to be closed because the material was replacing to the petroleum and liquefied natural gas (LNG) since around 1970s. The Gas Museum itself is a building that had been used for factories or offices during the Meiji Taisho period. As a matter of fact, “Gas Lamp Pavilion” is a historical red brick building at the Tokyo Gas Hongo branch office (built in 1909) and “Living Equipment Pavilion” that existed at Senju factory (built in 1912).
<The Tokyo Gas Factory site that turned to a fresh market>
Around these conditions, the “Tokyo Gas Toyosu factory”, one of the main factories, was closed in 1997. So the site had been handed over to Tokyo Government under the Tokyo Bay Waterfront Project (Sub-Tokyo Subcenter Development Plan) and designated as the relocation candidate of the former “Tsukiji Fresh Market” in Tokyo. And the site of the factory has finally transformed to the “Toyosu Fresh Market” (2019). However, as Tokyo Gas had been operating the coal combustion method for a long time, it was revealed that the residues or by-products of factory caused serious pollution. It’s now settled, but the construction plan of Toyosu Market was exposed to criticism as serious political problems for one time. Today, this vast site of Toyosu changed to a new urban landscape filled with office buildings, commercial facilities, and green area. And there lacates a science museum called “What’s the gas museum” symbolically built by TG for advertising the usefulness of gas energy utilities.
After the visit
With looking the exhibition of the museum, I felt I could understand a bit how the gas business was spread as a part of Japan’s social infrastructure, how it changed social life, and contributed to the industrial development in terms of energy source since the Meiji era. In particular, I was impressed much with the development of gas appliances, advancement in technology of the way for using heat sources, and changes in living and living environments. That was reflected well in the exhibits. In addition, the competition and complementary relationship of gas and electricity business, changes in raw materials from coal to oil and shifting liquefied natural gas, as well as the evolution of industrial forms by using gas and electricity, were very interesting subjects. The only thing I’ve cared a little is that there are few references to environmental problems brought by the gas business in the process. In any case, it seems precious that historical red brick building is used for exhibition as it was, and the memorial exhibits are conveying the scenes of changing social and family life since the Meiji Era which had brought about by the supply of gases.
- Gas Museum (Tokyo Gas) HP: https://www.gasmuseum.jp/
- 「⽇本のエネルギー、150年の歴史」資源エネルギー庁 https://www.enecho.meti.go.jp/about/special/johoteikyo/history1meiji.html
- 「ガスとくらしのモノがたり」GAS MUSEUM がす資料館
- 「東京ガスの歴史とガスのあるくらし」（高橋豊）＜講演録＞（2006 Oct.19）
- ガス業界の歴史 https://denryoku-gas.jp/info/gas/history-of-industry
- ガス事業の歴史を振り返る https://pps-net.org/column/32143
- 日本ガス協会 HP: https://www.gas.or.jp/