The term "soda" and other related terms appeared for the first time in Japan in books translated in the mid-19th century. Glass (pidoro) and soap (shabon) came to Japan earlier with the Christian mission, but their manufacture did not develop into a large industry under the Shogun's regime.
The soda industry, as now we understand it began in 1881, when the government introduced the Western technology for mintage as a national project by the finance department at the Mint and the Printing Bureau. Although the traditional Leblanc process was being challenged by the new Solvay process, the former was the only choice available to Japan: the country had to start with an outdated technology.
The Leblanc process uses salt and sulfuric acid as raw materials. Salt production in Japan was then in surplus, and thought to be sufficient for the raw material for soda production. Sulfuric acid had been manufactured since 1872 by the Mint. Starting up the soda industry was thus thought to be realistic enough.
In 1881, the Mint began production of soda ash and artificial fertilizer as outlets for its sulfuric acid. In the same year, the Printing Bureau also started the manufacturing of soda ash and bleaching powder for making banknote paper. In 1885, the Printing Bureau established a new factory in Oji to manufacture soda ash, sulfuric acid and bleaching powder in full swing. The production project by the Mint, however, was later privatized.
The factory in Oji was shifted from the Printing Bureau to the Ministry of the Imperial Household and renamed the Oji Manufacturing Site in 1890. The business was continued under the supervision of the authority until 1895, when the sulfuric business was divested to the Army and the soda production was privatized. Since then, the Japanese soda industry has consisted of solely private enterprises.
The product quality was, however, not competitive because of the outdated Leblanc process, while the advantage of the Solvay process had become clear by the mid-1890s. Also the Leblanc process could hardly be improved. In the early 1910s, only two manufacturers were active in Japan, and met only a small part of the domestic demand for caustic soda and soda ash.
The chloralkali process in Japan took off after 1912; the Solvay (ammonia-soda) process also became active in 1916. The latter grew since that time, under governmental subsidization and with the introduction of new technologies. Eventually, it came to cover the entire domestic demand in 1935.