The First 50 Years of Japanese-Hungarian Commercial Relations
Chapters from Sándor Kiss's book In Allurement of Japan
Book Presentation for
on 17 of February, 2017
1867 was the year when the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy – the second largest state in
– was formed. Hungary gained independence in her economy but foreign affairs,
military and finance were operated commonly under Franz Joseph, the first
Emperor of Austria and King of Hungary. Common expenditures were allocated 70%
to Austria and 30% to Hungary
became partially independent after 350 years of Habsburg reign.
As an almost landlocked country,
had no presence on the seas. Nevertheless, Austria had long wished for a
sizable fleet and access overseas markets. In the same year when the Austro-Hungarian
Monarchy was established, an expedition was sent to the Far East and South America headed by Rear Admiral Anton von Petz. The joint delegation of Monarchy reached
on 2nd of October 1869. The Signing ceremony of the first Treaty of Friendship, Trade and Sailing between our countries was
held on 18th October. The ratification of the treaty took two years. The treaty
was unequal because the Japanese side got less favorable treatment and fewer
advantages. To tell it frankly in the 13 member delegation there were 4
Hungarians, all of them in minor positions. The treaty was prepared by the
British Embassy in Yokohama, Japan Tokyo.
An exhibition was organized in
Yokohama where products of
78 companies were on display. Visitors could inspect and taste Hungarian
products such as Dreher beer, white and red wines from Pécs, Pozsony (now Bratislava in Slovakia)
and Sopron. Of
course Tokaji aszú “Wine of the Kings,
King of the Wines” from Earl Zichy
estate was leading the rank. The world famous milled products of First Mill in Budapest went on display.
Companies from Austria put on display machinery, military products, measuring
equipments, clocks, optical products, furniture, glass and porcelain ware,
textile of different kinds, ladies fashion items and jewelry.
The most noteworthy event in October
1869 in Japan was the visit of the
Austro-Hungarian Expedition. The entertaining program for Japan was well prepared as the daily navy musician
parade in Yokohama
harbor but also institutes were carefully selected for book and objects
donations. Among the gifts offered to the Emperor of Japan as a token of the
special sympathy and friendship of the Emperor of Austria and King of Hungary,
the Bösendorfer piano was particularly admired by his Majesty. This was the
first piano to arrive to Japan.
On his request Baron Ransonnett gave
a concert which delighted the eighteen-year-old Emperor, who wished that lessons
on the forte-piano should be granted to his official musicians. “It is interesting to know that his Imperial
Majesty picked out a piece of Chopin’s On
the Piazetta and an Austrian polka”
wrote the Japan Times.
During this period, English, American, French and Dutch goods were painfully and slowly introduced to
Japan. The Austrian and Hungarian
Exhibition was a great stimulus in this regard, and experienced traders noted
that “ is not ashamed boldly to proclaim her object; she comes to trade, and
with her Embassy (i.e. Expedition), she sends samples of what she has to sell.”
It was an exciting time for the foreign traders in
who were afraid of the strong competition of cheaper goods that might come from
the Monarchy. Yes, it was the goal of the mission but an obvious problem was
that the transportation cost from Austria was higher than from those
countries. Frankly speaking there were only few competitive export products for
from the Monarchy.
The signing of the treaty opened the way for commercial relations. Alexander Hübner, a famous senior Austrian diplomat, was travelling in
Japan in 1871. His opinion was that
Austria had no political and
commercial interest in Japan
at that time. Hübner’s observation was
based on the facts and it took several years to set up the first
Austro-Hungarian Legation in Tsukiji in Tokyo
in 1875. We bought Oscar Heeren’s
house with a Japanese garden, which was burnt-out next year and the legation
moved to several places during the next 20 years. Until 1875 the representation
for commercial matters was provided by British consuls, but even after that a
strong relation remained. Our own consulate in Yokohama was established in 1876 and it also
served as legation in 1880. The rank of legation was raised to that of an
embassy in 1883. That was the road from consul general, through minister
resident, envoy between 1869 and 1906. Ambassadors were named mutually only in
1907 after the Russo-Japanese war, when Japan earned the rank of Great Power.
Getting first hand information was the key to progress in trading with
Here is the list of the important Hungarian travelers to Japan, those with business ideas
are in italic:
Ø 1876 Count Ágost and József Zichy (they met Emperor Meiji and their travel diary was printed in Hungarian), Károly Cziriák tailor, business traveler and correspondent;
Ø 1878 Count Béla Széchenyi and Gustav Kreitner (Széchenyi actually was hunting in
Their detailed travel diary was printed both in German, Hungarian and recently
Ø 1882 Ödön Faragó customs director;
Ø 1883 Ferenc Hopp optician & collector, Attila Szemere journalist & collector;
Ede Reményi violinist who played violin for the first time before
But it was equally important that those visitors from
Japan who came
to Hungary could form their
own view of Hungary,
separate from that of Austria.
It took more than a decade perhaps for the Japanese to recognize Hungary
as a separate country with different people, different language and culture. We
used and still use the word dualism
as definition (when we refer to the Dual Monarchy), but it was difficult to
conceptualize not only for the Japanese but also for other countries. What does
it mean when foreign policy, military and finance are jointly handled from Vienna by mostly Austrians and all other matters are handled
individually from Budapest?
Here is the list of Japanese visitors, who collected information in
about her people, economy and state administration:
Ø 1873 Ambassador Sano Tsunetami visited
Budapest and expressed his high appreciation for Hungarian
hospitality extended to the six member juror delegation during their visit to Hungary;
Ø 1884 military delegation visited
headed by Prince Oyama Iwao minister
of military affairs;
Ø 1885 Takei Morimasa chief forester visited
and made a collaboration agreement with leaders of Hungarian forestry;
Ø 1886 Viscount Tani Tateki minister of agriculture and his five member delegation visited
As we see from the lists above the early visits brought essential information in order to orientate the interest on both sides. Japanese authorities identified the field of agriculture and horse-breeding as targets to carry on business.
Regular monarchial trade with
Japan started around 1875 through Yokohama port. Primary Japanese
export commodities were silk, tea and rice. Japanese foreign trade was in its
could sell very few products at the beginning. Although the private
entrepreneurs were acting quickly they sensed a growing demand for Japanese
goods. Some Budapest
shops were selling Chinese and Japanese products already in 1873, the year of
Japanese participation at Vienna World Exposition, the Weltausstellung 1873 Wien.
Due to common handling of foreign trade statistics in
there is no reliable data on Hungarian goods exported to Japan. The foreign trade was
separated in 1893 and since then we have detailed statistics of turnover. Hungary was buying rice and Japan was buying sugar, torpedoes
as main commodities and high interest was shown by Japanese in Hungarian
horse-breeding. But among items bought in small quantities we can find
interesting ones, which are worth describing.
Giovanni Luppis developed the first prototypes of the self-propelled torpedo (
and these were among the first military products purchased by the Japanese
Navy. The gyroscope and the heater were developed by Hungarian engineers Lajos Orby and János Gesztessy respectively. We do not know the exact date when the
first shipment was done from Whitehead factory in Fiume
but we can put it as early as mid 1880. Japan was not only a regular buyer,
but also committed the factory to develop a 27.5 inch model in 1900.
Seventy two Fiume class torpedoes were used
successfully in the Russo-Japanese war.
The Japanese Cavalry was interested both in Hungarian cavalryman (hussar) fighting tactics and horse-breeding as well soon after signing the treaty. Several military delegations paid a visit to Mezőhegyes (Bábolna) to see the Arabian stud farm. Three stallions were bought in 1890. Dr. János Torma delivered the horses to
by the Lloyd steamer. The trip took two and a half months. That is the first
record of our delivering horses to Japan,
which was followed by purchasing 32 horses for horse farms in Miyagi, Iwate and
respectively in 1883. Next year they bought pedigree sires for breeding. More
and more Japanese grooms and military personnel arrived for longer periods to
study horse-breeding and training. Even some romantic relationships developed
during their stay. The Yokohama consulate of Austria-Hungary
always kept their own horses. Also we have records showing that Japan
bought horses and pedigree neat every year between 1897 and 1901 and kept
buying regularly until the Great War.
Károly Pongó Kiss, chemist and X-ray radiogram specialist, modified Röntgen’s X-ray tube in 1899 and his tubes could produce the sharpest pictures, which were the best ones world wide for more than a decade.
Japan regularly bought his tubes.
The list of imported items from
was also rich although the rice and silk had the largest share. Hungary
also purchased copper, fish fat, catechu (terra Japonica), wooden furniture,
art pieces of wood and metal, ceramics and porcelain pieces, fans, ladies
fashion and rice paper. Just to picture the volume of the turnover between Japan and the Monarchy: each year 12-13 steamers
left for Kobe and returned to Fiume
before and after a decade at the turn of the century.
became a stronger business and trading partner, Japan
sought to recognize the fact by assigning an honorary consul to Budapest. Mr. Ödön Palotay was appointed with approval of
Emperor and King Franz Joseph I. in
1909. That was the year when the first member of the imperial family visited Hungary.
Prince Nashimoto Morimasa and his
wife during their short visit met with the Austrian Emperor and Hungarian King
This visit had historical importance as Prince Nashimoto personally delivered the secret agreement signed by the
Japanese Emperor. Japan and Austria secretly agreed to attack Russia in case of a Russian attack on either Austria or Japan. The Japanese-British
connections suffered a lot those days due to the British-Russian renewed
agreements. It explains why Emperor and King Franz Joseph first called on Prince Nashimoto, overturning the diplomatic rules. The visit of Prince Fushimi and his wife to Budapest was followed in
Mr. Palotay wrote the first book in Hungarian devoted to Japanese economy and it was published only in 1910. Both the high level visits and opening of the office of Honorary Consulate of Japan in
guaranteed ongoing support at the highest levels for commercial relations.
Since 1869 our economic relations with
Japan had been
developing, bringing a deeper knowledge of how to trade with each other, how to
settle the payments, how to finance contracts. And mutual trust and
understanding has been formed among the business circles. Alas, the tensions in
the world in those days had been growing. The assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria and his wife in Sarajevo on 28th June 1914 suddenly changed
the political world climate. The outbreak of the Great War pulled Hungary
into the world arena involuntarily and unprepared. Less than a month later Austria declared war with Japan. All diplomatic and
commercial contacts were broken abruptly. Hungary
became independent after Austria
lost the war in 1918. Troublesome years followed and Hungary lost two thirds of her
population and territory under the Treaty of Trianon in 1920.
entrepreneurs in Meiji
Our story would not be complete without an appreciation of Hungarian entrepreneurs in
Without a doubt, they were risk-takers and pioneers, embodying the best of an
internationalist, cosmopolitan spirit. Meiji-era Japan
Maurice (Moritz) Montague Kuhn although his name does not sound Hungarian arrived to
Yokohama from New
York in 1868. He was 25 years old, but a born
businessman. He registered his company as China
and Japan Importers and Exporters and operated at 70A lot in Yokohama in 1869. Soon he
needed one more reliable hand and invited from his larger family his nephew
Arthur Kuhn from Budapest. Arthur was the travelling agent. He
frequently went to Shanghai and Hong Kong to buy and sell and could establish contacts to
the highest levels.
Their business started to grow in art and antique items so it was an obvious next step to open a curio shop in the heart of the settlement in 1874. Their shop sold keepsakes, souvenirs, swords, vases, tortoiseshell and ivories, lacquered articles, Japanese art porcelain and many kind of metal, furniture and other goods made by Japanese artisans. They were offering items from
and India and even rare
collections of Peking enamels. Their business
model was simple – complete service for the customer including made-to-order
items to be delivered within the shortest time, including packing, export, and international
shipment services to any destination.
The Kuhns had a very good eye for rarities but also they gained deeper and deeper knowledge about their art pieces and figured out how to sell directly to rich customers by visiting royals, museums and famous collectors. Due to the impoverished state of the samurai class in
they were able to buy for cash high valued antique pieces at low prices. As
most of their customers were Europeans, they kept furniture made to European
designs but employed Japanese motifs. The so called Meiji cabinets, table and
chairs were not sellable in Japan.
The business was booming, but the really big challenge arrived for them at the Calcutta International Exhibition in 1883-84, where Kuhn & Co., was representing
Japan. Japan had been invited to
participate but for several reasons they refused.
The exhibition was opened by Prince Arthur, Duke of Connaught and Strathearn. By sheer good luck Kuhn & Co., was able to take the place of those Singaporean exhibitors, who failed to appear. Arthur Kuhn who was a language talent, had excellent sense to understand difficult situations and had highly-developed managerial talents. Actually he was also in trouble because he allocated and paid for a little stand only. He knew that their large collection of Japanese curios was the finest ever to leave
but he lacked sufficient space to include them in his show.
Arthur Kuhn equally helped the Singaporeans and themselves by arranging the Japanese exhibits into the
by securing valuable attraction. The place soon was named as Japanese Court which became one of the
major attractions. Prince Connaught and
duchess Louise Margaret of Prussia
paid several visit to see the treasures of Japanese
Court and from that time Kuhn & Co. enjoyed the distinguished patronage
of the royal highness. The company won 12 gold, 5 silver and 4 bronze medals.
The Japanese government was so pleased with Kuhn’s exertions that on his return
he received a warm acknowledgement of gratitude from Japan’s first Minister of Foreign
Affairs Inoue Kaoru.
The success made them well known and Kuhn & Co., experienced a big growth, so it was reasonable to open a sales branch in
Calcutta. It produced
sudden high profit which enabled the company to open a new shop in Yokohama. Soon, M. M. Kuhn
opened shops in Hong Kong and Singapore
Needing more experienced staff, Kuhn invited Siegfried Komor, a nephew from the large Komor family (there were seven siblings), to work for them. He arrived in
Yokohama in 1887 with
fresh marketing ideas. Soon he was involved in Kuhn’s curio and watch business
and also running the shop on the Queen’s Road in Hong Kong
for a short time. Arthur Kuhn took
over the Hong Kong shop but after a short operation they closed it and he went
to London to
open an office there. During his London days he
visited Hungary to see his
widow mother, and on one of those trips, in 1890, he met the Komor family, including Regina Komor, Siegfried’s younger sister. They
married the following year and moved back to Hong Kong.
It is recorded that Tsarevich Nicholas of
when in Hong Kong bought extensively at Kuhn’s
curio shop, and he was so pleased with his treatment that he did not visit any
other curio store. Before he visited Japan in May of 1891 a letter had been
written directly to Kuhn & Co., placing an order for many rare items. The incident put an end to the Tsarevich’
going to Kuhn & Co., curio store. Otsu
M. M. Kuhn was satisfied and left for
to work in their representative office there. Everything went smoothly, all
shops’ turnover and profit was growing. M. M. Kuhn opened a new business line, a Photographic Gallery downtown Yokohama
with famous Tamamura Kozaburo. Gold
lacquer photos were the specialty of his studio. He was a great businessman and
an experienced one but he made a mistake by keeping all his money and savings
at the New Oriental Bank which went bankrupt in the summer of 1892. He trusted
his bank since he arrived to Japan.
Suddenly he had no cash and to overcome it he sold the Hong
Kong shop to his subordinates Arthur Kuhn and Siegfried Komor
respectively. They established their own company Kuhn & Komor in Hong Kong on
16th July, 1892. That was the beginning of the separation which took
almost two years. Soon they opened their own curio store in Yokohama and a kind of competition began
between the two Hungarian companies. Siegfried Komor was managing Yokohama shop and
Arthur Kuhn the Hong
An important event in Hungarian travel history is the visit of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of
Austria to Japan.
For his private trip round the world he embarked on SMS Kaiserin Elizabeth in
1892. After visiting several countries he arrived to Nagasaki
in 1893 and went on to Yokohama,
where he visited the Kuhn & Komor store incognito and purchased a few items.
This was in August of 1893.
The young principals of Kuhn & Komor had a clear advantage as they were experts both in Japanese antique and in industrial art goods. Arthur Kuhn was well known not only in
in Hong Kong, Shanghai, Calcutta
as well. They had a goal to establish shops in those countries. As Kobe became a major international port which was also the
destination for most of the steamers from Fiume
they decided to open a fine art shop there.
Their next challenge was
Shanghai. The birth of Shanghai International
Settlement opened the gate for foreign traders to operate on Chinese soil. Shanghai was a place for
all kind of business. Perhaps it was a joint idea of Arthur and Siegfried to
introduce Japanese art goods in China.
To run those shops smoothly they invited more relatives and friends from Hungary and Vienna. Julius Kuhn went to Kobe and Isidor Komor, elder brother of Siegfried Komor, took his position in Shanghai and settled his
family in 1899. Samuel Donnenberg a
fine and industrial art expert from Vienna
was employed by them. Donnenberg was appointed as manager of the newly opened Singapore
curio shop in 1899. The international network of Kuhn & Komor curio shops
was completed. Their shop in Singapore
was opened just to crown the multinational network selling highest quality
Japanese curio goods. Yokohama
became the center where four more Japanese employees were needed to supply the
overseas shops and handle the increased number of customers.
Soon Mr. Antal Elked the first Hungarian banker in Asia arrived from
Shanghai as the representative of the Russo-Chinese Bank
had settled down in Kobe, who later moved to Yokohama. He was the
first among the Hungarians in Japan
to marry a Japanese lady, Fukutani Mitsuko
from a noble family. As a devoted sport man he helped the development of
Japanese horse racing and of figure skating.
The grand old man M. M. Kuhn also went to
to prepare opening of his Kuhn & Co., curio store as well. Actually the
market was big enough so both of them were successful and made profit around
the turn of the century. Those were the golden years for both Hungarian
M. M. Kuhn was taken to hospital in 1901 and he passed away on 9th of October. He had engaged in the curio business in 1869, from the beginning of his residency in
He put his family first in the more developed Shanghai,
but later they moved to Yokohama
as well. Maurice Kuhn was not a club
man but had a good word for everybody who stepped into his stores. He was
Hungarian as his son and two daughters were Hungarian citizens. His business
was taken over by his son Samuel Henry Kuhn.
Arthur Kuhn and Siegfried Komor had a deep knowledge of international shipping which gave an idea to them to apply for extending their logistic and shipment service to the Fifth National Industrial Exhibition in
which was held in 1903. That was the first domestic exhibition in Japan where foreign countries could participate
They were commissioned with all transportation services but also as a company
they exhibited their goods as well.
Soon they realized in
Shanghai better to move to the center of the
city. The selection of the second place in Shanghai was quite evident; it should be in
the most famous shopping area, on the Nanking
Road at its intersection with the Bund in the
Central Hotel building. The new curio shop (at 2 Nanking Road) under the name of Kuhn
& Komor went into operation in 1905 and customers received it well. Isidor Komor was not only a good merchant but
he was ready to help those ones in need.
Around the turn of the century the market trends were changing and the interest started to decline in traditional touristic items. It was pressing that by that time there were fewer and fewer high value antique items accessible as well. Arthur Kuhn and Siegfried Komor sensed the necessity of a breakthrough product. The product idea was simple; let us make products for every day use, but from silver with rich Japanese decoration.
was wealthy in silver and the silversmiths of the samurai class were almost
jobless. It was a great opportunity and the hunt started for the best
silversmiths who were ready to make simple every day products. Kuhn & Komor
found master Kurokawa who captured
this new opportunity. And soon crowds of foreign visitors were willing to buy
shoehorns, brushes for ladies, shaving mug and brush for man, letter-openers, button
hooks, boxes for cigarette and small items, cigarette and card cases, cups,
goblets, medicine measuring spoons, vases, tea leave holders, aid memory and
drink measure all made of 1000 silver. Also complete tea and coffee sets, bowls
of different size and shape, ewers, bowl jardinière, trophy cups and much more
were made from silver, all in attracting beauty. The competition in every day
silver products suddenly became intense and heated, but the talent of the exclusive
silversmith of Kuhn & Komor brought them to the top and they were renowned
in East Asia for their luxury silver goods,
earning the name Asprey of Asia.
After having so many successes in the Far East it was time to organize an exhibition in
at the .
The idea was inspired by K. Robert Kertész
who visited Hungarian National Museum Japan
and was amazed by the collection and shop of Arthur and Siegfried. Their
initiative was accepted by Benedek Barátosi
Balogh, Emil Delmár, Ernő Kilián and the Far-Eastern Asian Exhibition was opened on 9th October,
1904 and had to be extended until 11th of December because of its
popularity. Despite of its being an exhibition for sale, it proved to be a
smashing hit as the first of this kind. Arthur Kuhn and Siegfried Komor
could sell all the items they displayed. Siegfried gave a lecture at the Jewish
Hungarian Literature Association about his twenty year experiences as a
businessman in the Far-East.
The Kuhn & Komor Co., Ltd., the grand curiosity dealer network was in full motion. They experienced though difficulties as well e.g. a serious collapse of the building housing their shop at Queen’s Road in
Hong Kong. The valuable stock of Messrs. Kuhn & Komor
was totally wrecked killing one employee and seriously injuring a few others in
The curio business shrank and by the beginning of the war it was almost over. The
store and Calcutta
representation were closed down. Arthur Kuhn
and his wife Regina Komor left for Budapest
in 1913 and did not return. Kuhn sold his share to Siegfried Komor who established the Komor & Komor Company, but had the
right to use the Kuhn & Komor brand-name as well. Siegfried moved to Hong
Kong and Yokohama
was put in his son George Komor’s
hand. He was 25, but experienced and well-prepared to run all operations.
The First World War broke out on June 28, 1914.
Austria decided to fight
and ordered the Austro-Hungarian cruiser, SMS Kaiserin Elizabeth to join the
German Fleet at Chingtao German Colony. The war affected the Hungarian
businesses at different time and different way. Siegfried Komor’s activity in Hong Kong was
suspended in 1915, although he was offered English citizenship in order to
continue his activity but he refused it.
Isidor Komor and his son, Paul, were deported by the British from
to in March 1919. Taking up
residence in Hamburg, Germany Stuttgart, Isidor opened a curio
shop there and ran it until his return to Shanghai
in 1933, where he lived with his son, Paul, dying in 1942. For his humanitarian
work on behalf of Hungarian prisoners of war in Russia, Archduke Franz Salvator
presented Isidor with the Cross of the Hungarian Red Cross in 1918.
Siegfried Komor could get back to business in 1919. He returned to curio world and his son Henry Solon helped him, but Henry Solon was also involved in vehicle business. Siegfried passed away in
in Hong Kong.
Samuel Henry Kuhn was also ordered to leave
Shanghai, but his mother could stay because
his sister was married to an Englishman.
George Komor was the only lucky one who could run his business in
Japan during the war. Only the Yokohama and Kobe
shop remained active from the international network of Hungarians. After the
war George could extend his activity to Tokyo
and opened his fashion shop opposite to Imperial Hotel. His business started to
boom but the 1923 Great Kanto earthquake destroyed his Yokohama
and Tokyo shop,
his house collapsed and got fire and his pregnant wife perished in the
firestorm aftermath in front of his eyes. Practically he lost everything, but
he could stand up again and he was in business until 1970. He died in Yokohama in 1976.
Go szeicsó wo arigató gozaimashita!
Thank you for your attention!
The lecture was prepared on the research of Sándor Kiss. His book titled In Allurement of Japan will be published in 2017. The author used several sources to collect material, including personal interviews with living family members and friends. He flipped for information German, Japanese, Hungarian and English newspapers, magazines and trade directories and related books. He researched actively collections of Yokohama Archives of History, Kobe City Archives, National Diet Library of Japan, Library of Stanford University, National Archives of Hungary, National Széchényi Library, Library of Hopp Ferenc Múzeum, Haus-, Hof- und Staatsarchiv des Österreichischen Staatsarchivs and many more libraries and museums. For Hungarian daily press he researched Arcanum Digital Database. Last but not least he collected and double checked information on World Wide Web sources.
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