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Jō Takasuka (1865–1940)

by D. C. S. Sissons

This article was published:

Jō Takasuka (1865-1940), by unknown photographer, 1939

Jō Takasuka (1865-1940), by unknown photographer, 1939

La Trobe Picture Collection, State Library of Victoria, H92.400/94

Jō Takasuka (1865-1940), farmer, was born on 13 February 1865 at Matsuyama, Japan, only son of Kahei Takasuka and his wife Katsu, née Tamura. He enrolled in the economics faculty of Keiō University, Tokyo, in 1892, but shortly afterwards went to study in the United States of America where he gained his B.A. at Westminster College, Pennsylvania, in 1896.

As a candidate of the Liberal Party, he was returned to the Japanese House of Representatives in March 1898 and retained his seat in the election that followed the government's peremptory dissolution of the House in May. The cost of two campaigns within five months strained the family's financial resources and he did not contest the next election in 1902.

Accompanied by his wife Ichi (1874-1956), daughter of a district court judge Michimoto Maejima, and their two infant children, Takasuka arrived in Melbourne in 1905 and was admitted on a twelve months 'certificate of exemption from the dictation test' granted to enable him to engage in the export and import trade. He set up in business as Takasuka, Dight & Co., Japanese indentors, at 136 Queen Street. As a part-time activity he also taught the Japanese language at Stott & Hoare's Business College. Within eighteen months, however, Takasuka had moved to Nyah, sowed 35 acres (14 ha) of rice on land rented from a local farmer, and entered into negotiations with the Victorian government to acquire a suitable allotment of crown land subject to annual flooding on which to cultivate rice. He was granted permissive occupancy of 200 acres (81 ha) of such land at Tyntynder West from January 1908 at an annual rent of 6d. per acre, convertible to a perpetual lease at 3d. per acre after five years and the expenditure of £500 on improvements. The Federal government no less than its State counterpart was impressed by departmental advice that the land was typical of hundreds of acres along the River Murray, 'of little use for other purposes', and indicated that annual extensions of their certificate of exemption were likely for the duration of his experiments. In this manner Takasuka embarked upon a twenty-year battle against the elements in what was then the only sustained attempt to grow rice in Victoria. Yet, he lacked the £700-£800 capital required to build in a single season the levee bank necessary to control the floods, and his attempts to construct it in stages were swept away each year.

His first success was in 1911 when test-plots on his property were harvested. Using these seeds, he grew rice successfully on small parcels of rented land for the next three seasons. At that time the total value of his improvements was only £119. Sales to commercial seedsmen in 1915 enabled him to add another £230 and, although the total still fell short of the required £500, a perpetual lease was issued to him.

Seasonal conditions were such that he was unable to sow rice again until 1919 and then the seed was so old that the crop failed. In 1921 and 1922 he had good harvests on his own property. In the course of his experiments he had developed methods of cultivation appropriate to Australian conditions. Instead of transplanting the seedlings by hand as was done in Japan, he sowed the seed in its permanent position by drill in the manner of Australian wheat-farmers. He was able to show that, by using from two to four feet (61 cm–122 cm) of water per acre, yields of more than one ton could be obtained. But it was a blind alley. Tests of his best variety conducted over four seasons at Yanco Experiment Farm, New South Wales, were not favourable. In 1927 he abandoned rice cultivation, moved elsewhere in the district and tried to grow, in succession, vines, tomatoes and bamboo-shoots, with little success. By disposition he was a theorist rather than a practical man: at Nyah the story is still current that the first time he set a rabbit-trap he baited it.

In July 1939 Takasuka returned alone to Japan with the intention of re-entering trade. He had just set up an office in Kobe as Australia Barter Trade & Co. when he died of heart disease on 15 February 1940 at Matsuyama. He was survived by his wife, daughter Aiko Watters (1903-1970)—a state schoolteacher—and two sons: Shō (1900-1972), tomato-grower and president (1966-67) of Huntly Shire, and Mario (b.1910), orchardist, who served in Crete and New Guinea with the Australian Imperial Force.

Select Bibliography

  • D. C. S. Sissons, ‘A Selector and His Family’, Hemisphere, 25, no 3, Nov-Dec 1980, p 168
  • 05075/204 (Lands Dept, Victoria)
  • A1 25/27797 (National Archives of Australia).

Citation details

D. C. S. Sissons, 'Takasuka, Jō (1865–1940)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1990, accessed online 16 June 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 12, (Melbourne University Press), 1990

View the front pages for Volume 12

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Jō Takasuka (1865-1940), by unknown photographer, 1939

Jō Takasuka (1865-1940), by unknown photographer, 1939

La Trobe Picture Collection, State Library of Victoria, H92.400/94

Life Summary [details]

Alternative Names
  • Takasuka, Jo

13 February, 1865
Matsuyama, Japan


15 February, 1940 (aged 75)
Matsuyama, Japan

Cultural Heritage

Includes subject's nationality; their parents' nationality; the countries in which they spent a significant part of their childhood, and their self-identity.