Abstract: Electrifying Kyoto: Business and Politics of Lighting, 1889—1915

Chenxiao Xia


This paper examines the electrification of Kyoto in a Japanese context, and that of Japan in a global context by a comparison with western countries. Although electrification started at about the same time in the 1880s in Japan and western countries, Japanese electrification is unique in many ways. (1) Japan electrified itself faster than western countries, as Kyoto reached 100% residential electrification in 1915, when most western cities were still under-electrified; (2) public ownership, a common organizational form in western societies, appeared late in Japan, as Kyoto was Japan’s only public owned utility until 1906; (3) municipal regulation on electric utilities appeared late in Japan, as it was not until the 1900s that ‘franchise’ and ‘rights of way’ were introduced to Kyoto from Germany; (4) the practice of western municipal franchise had to be adjusted painfully to a non-western Japanese context—without success; (5) Japan reached a regulation model in which municipalities were not regulator, but the regulated, by the central government. This paper concludes that, although electrification is a complex interplay of technological, entrepreneurial, political, and cultural factors, the varieties of electrification across countries could be explained from the variety in the check-and-balance between private business, local government, and central government.