Writings of Kazuo Nimura



The Formation of Japanese Labor Movement;1868-1914

NIMURA, Kazuo




Readers of this paper will no doubt be less interested in general Japanese history than in the history of the development of the Japanese working-class movement and its special characteristics. However, because that development is closely bound up with the nature of the Japanese state, its government policies and its economic development, the first section of the paper will present an outline of Japanese politics and economy in the period under discussion. Sections two to four will deal with the development and characteristics of the various working class movements, while the actual determinants of the development of the movement as a whole will be considered in the concluding fifth section.*1



Political and Economic Changes after the Meiji Restoration of 1868

The year 1868 saw the beginning of modern Japan. The domination of the country by the Tokugawa shoguns which had lasted for two and a half centuries came to an end in that year, but what led directly to the restoration of the Emperor was the European and American military pressure on Japan to open herself up to trade. The Tokugawa central government, the shogunate, had been responding to that pressure since 1858 and had entered into commercial treaties first with America and then the Netherlands, Russia, Great Britain and France. Ending the long years of the isolation policy, the treaties opened Japan's ports to, among other things, her first large-scale imports of manufactured goods-British cotton-and made possible a rapid rise in exports of raw silk and tea. Japan's own cotton culture however, went into decline and textile weavers who were dependent on raw silk suffered from the scarcity of their raw material and its high price. Furthermore, due to the differing international price of gold and silver, gold flowed out of the country in large quantities, and the Tokugawa government responded with a drastic devaluation of the currency by a third, causing severe inflation. Popular frustration showed itself in outbreaks of violence all over the country. Faced with the twin threats of foreign pressure and internal unrest, the Tokugawa shogunate and the local clan authorities were forced to increase their military preparedness. In order to strengthen its control over the local clan governments, the shogunate retightened the regulation of the extremely expensive sankinkotai system by which local lords were required to spend every other year in the capital in attendance on the shogun. The clans in their turn reduced samurai stipends and increased taxes in order to safeguard their sources ofrevenue. This of course had the effect of further depressing the living standards of poorer samurai and of the mass of the people. Dissatisfaction and frustration began to build up within the samurai ruling class itself at the shogunate's inability to deal with the situation. Several disaffected clans from the traditionally anti Tokugawa provinces in western Japan allied themselves with the Imperial Court in Kyoto and began openly to press for the overthrow of the shogunate. In the end the Tokugawa regime brought about its own downfall through the internal splits within the ruling class which were caused by the failure of the regime's policies to address its own financial crisis and the pressure from foreign powers.

The Emperors of Japan had lost their effective political power some five centuries earlier, but throughout the ages, their historical, religious and symbolic authority had not diminished. Both the shogunate and its opponents in the years leading up to the restoration tried to legitimize themselves according to this authority and to claim it for their own cause. Ultimately successful in this attempt were the anti-Tokugawa forces, the Satsuma and Choshu clans and their allies, and it is for this reason that the events of 1868 are called the Meiji Restoration rather than the Meiji Revolution: it was seen as something conservative - the reestablishment of the ancient and sacred imperial power.

For this imperial Japan to survive in its new form however, and overcome the twin threats of foreign and domestic crisis, it was vital that it should reorganize itself as a modern unified nation state as soon as possible in order to be able to defend its political and economic independence. In this fact, and what it was to lead to, lies the inevitability of 1868 being called a 'revolution';it was not just a reactionary political movement or coup d'état, which the word 'restoration' tends to imply. In 1871, the more than 260 clan fiefdoms were formally abolished and the central Meiji government assumed direct rule. At the end of that same year, the vertical structure of the traditional four-fold class system-samurai, farmer, artisan, merchant-was also abolished. Freedom of occupation and freedom of residence were legally recognized, thus creating the preconditions for the development of a capitalist economy. But at the head of the new political order was the Emperor, and effective power was in the hands of his ministers and civil servants who were samurai of the victorious Satsuma and Choshu clans-it was to be a system of control by a new despotism.

The year 1889 saw the promulgation of the Imperial Japanese Constitution and the founding of the Diet, or Parliament. This was a bicameral institution, consisting of a House of Peers and a House of Representatives. The upper chamber was made up of the imperial family and hereditary peers selected by a process of 'in-group election' from amongst court nobles, former high-ranking lords under the old system (daimyo) and members of other families who had performed meritorious services during the Restoration years as well as a few wealthy taxpayers. Elections to the House of Representatives were public, but the vote was restricted to men over the age of 25 who were paying tax above a certain amount. Consequently, in the first general election in 1890, only 450,000 (1.1%) out of the total population of 40,000,000 were entitled to vote. The franchise was extended in 1900 to 1,000,000, but this still only amounted to 2.2% of the total population. Universal male suffrage was only recognized in 1925. Strictly speaking, according to the Meiji Constitution of 1889, the Diet did not have the autonomous right to pass laws; the Emperor's approval was also necessary. The government of the day was made up of cabinet ministers appointed by the Emperor, and legal trials were conducted in the name of the Emperor. Also, the armed forces were directly accountable to the Emperor rather than to the Cabinet or the Diet. Such was the legal framework laid down in the Constitution, but in practice, it was modified, often in a more or less arbitrary fashion, by the government of the day. For example, the rights and freedoms of the people were recognized by the Constitution, but always 'subject to the confines of the law', and in practice, the rights to free speech, to free expression of thought, to assembly and combination were severely restricted.

Under the slogans of fukoku-kyohei (a rich nation and a strong army) and shokusan-kogyo (develop industry and promote enterprise), the Meiji government energetically set about importing modern technology and know-how. State-run factories and plants were established in all the main sectors of industry as well as in armaments: in railways, telegraphy, mining, engineering, textiles, glass, brick making and printing. Imported foreign machinery was used in these factories and foreign technical experts were employed at high salaries to instruct in their use and manufacture until the Japanese were able to carry on by themselves. This policy was not immediately succesful, but by the end of the 1880s, the Japanese economy had begun to grow. Japan's two foreign wars against China (1894-5) and Russia (1904-5) gave tremendous spurs to this development to the point where Japan was clearly recognized as the first non-western country to succeed in industrialization.

It was the textile industry which gave the main impetus to economic growth during this period. Following the opening of Japan's ports, the production of raw silk, which was the country's main export and which began with farmers' families producing at home to supplement their income, gradually developed into numerous small-scale manufacturing units. In 1905 Japanese exports of raw silk overtook those of Italy and in 1909 those of China until Japan had become the world's leading exporter. The same process of tranformation of production from home-based work to manufacturing industry and exports took place in the cotton industry, though the take-off here was fuelled at first by domestic demand. The cotton spinning industry developed on the back of a flourishing domestic demand for textiles and achieved a rapid rate of growth due to its early introduction of imported machinery and large-scale systematized production. In 1891 production outstripped imports, which were then overtaken by exports in 1897.

Another early developer was the mining industry. Japan had had a long history of non-ferrous metal mining. There were exports of silver and copper to the Netherlands and China even during the years of national isolation under the Tokugawa shogun, and in the latter half of the 17th century, the country was the world's leading producer of copper. Most of Japan's biggest mines were discovered during the Tokugawa era, but as work progressed, problems of flooding proved too difficult to overcome and many mines were not being worked at the beginning of the Meiji era. These were opened after 1870 with the rapid diffusion throughout the industry of inechanical pumps and explosives which the western mining engineers had brought with them. The coal industry, which began by supplying fuel for visiting foreign vessels and for salt production, also went through a swift process of development as its exports rose and it came to be used increasingly as the motive power for the various burgeoning domestic industries. The expansion of the railway network was also extremely vigorous - from the first 29 kilometre track between Tokyo and Yokohama in 1872, it had reached 3108 kilometres twenty years later, and twenty years further on, in 1912, 11,425 kilometres.

The growth of engineering industries was led by armaments and ship-building. Factories in these sectors of industry had already been established by the shogunate and by clan authorities, but with the introduction of western techniques and equipment, they greatly increased in scale as they were directly funded by the Meiji government wich also established a number ofnew state-owned yards.



An Historical Outline of Japanese Labour Disputes

In the years before the First World War the Japanese labour movement was mainly a matter of strikes and small-scale disputes. A number of trade unions were formed, but their organizational strength was weak and they only lasted for a short time.

Table 1 shows labour disputes in this period as recorded in various newspapers and magazines. The figures could not be compiled according to any unified standard and so cannot be taken to form a strict statistical comparison. Furthermore, in the early Meiji period, there were few daily newspapers and no modern communication networks, so small-scale disputes may well have gone unrecorded. The number of participants and the length of disputes were also inadequately reported once newspapers did get underway. Nevertheless, media reports of strikes and disputes are probably more reliable than government statistics, which were first compiled in 1897. Table 1 clearly shows that the year 1897 divides the whole period into two, and closer examination reveals the boundaries of the earlier and later periods to have been around 1888 and 1906 respectively.

Table 1    Number of labour disputes and strikes in Japan, 1870-1914.
Table 1    Number of labour disputes and strikes in Japan, 1870-1914.
yeardisputesstrikesyeardisputesstrikes
1870301893137
187110189476
1872201895117
18731018962514
187400189711281
18750018985340
18760018993419
18771019003722
18783019012616
18790019022817
18803019034126
1881201904108
18827119053022
18833019063622
1884101907234134
18855119089564
18868619094015
18872119104933
188812519114939
1889171019127544
18909519132817
189112819143718
1892177

Prior to 1888, labour disputes did not exceed eight in any one year. Most were in the mining industry, nearly 60% of the total in fact, and took the form of spontaneous riots and disturbances. Half the disputes in mining in this period-10 in number-took place at the Takashima coal mine. Three disputes occured at the Mi'ike coal mine and one each at the Ani copper mine, the Osari-zawa copper mine, the In'nai silver mine and the Sado gold mine-all of them well-known large-scale mining operations.

The textile industry also had a comparatively high proportion of disputes-seven in the years 1885-6, but these were in an urban environment, Kofu in Yamanashi Prefecture, where five small-scale strikes in succession broke out among female silk workers and were consequently reported in the local press. The single strike the year before had also been by these same workers. Prior to 1884 no disputes are recorded in the textile industry. Either they did not take place or they simply were not noted. After 1888 the number of disputes per year went into double figures except for the years 1890 and 1994. Strikes now became more numerous than riots and disturbances, and disputes involving craftsmen and textile workers reached the level of those involving miners.

Table 2  Number of labour disputes by industries or jobs in Japan 1870-1914
yearlabour
disputes
strikesminers%crafts-
men
%labourers%textile
workers
%metal
workers
%
1870-7470571.4228.600.000.000.0
1875-7940375.0125.000.000.000.0
1880-84161850.016.3318.800.000.0
1885-8944231125.036.8511.41125.012.3
1890-945833813.81322.4712.11525.911.7
1895-99235161177.26628.13916.6208.5177.2
1900-0414289117.72819.7128.52014.1128.5
1905-094352577016.17617.56615.2296.74410.1
1910-14238151145.93916.45322.32610.92610.9
  total  117971514712.522919.418515.712110.31018.6
1-year average26.215.93.312.65.019.14.115.62.710.32.28.4

Why then did disputes in this early period in the mining industry, especially at the Takashima coal mine,*2 so frequently take a violent form? One contributing factor is that only in the mining industry were there enterprises which employed very large numbers of male workers. The Takashima mine, for instance,was Japan's first modern coal mine and had been using steam power since 1869 to drive water pumps and transport systems. In 1881 between four and five thousand men were employed there; it was not easy to manage such large numbers. Takashima is an offshore island which also complicated matters. There was naturally a shortage of men who whished to work there in the dark and dangerous tunnels. To overcome this problem, management had to resort to subcontracting systems dependent on paternalistic labour bosses who hired men to whom they had a personal or family relationship. These bosses loaned the workers their expenses and travel money and would sometimes misrepresent the working conditions, or they would even resort to abduction. Once employed, workers were bound by their loans and could not freely quit. Men who tried to escape their 'debts' by running away were sometimes lynched by the gang bosses. A fierce resentment and sense of outrage build up in the workers caught in this situation, which often exploded into violence at the slightest pretext. The owners would also frequently lower the subcontracting rates and delay the payment of wages, which led to confrontations between the company and the labour bosses, who would reply by stirring up trouble among the men and creating disputes. Disturbances were also caused when the workers were drawn into conflicts among labour bosses over competitive tender prices. Another frequent trouble spot was the docks where many unskilled workers were employed as longshoremen, in the same kind of labour gang system in which labour was controlled by gang bosses. Here, too, most disputes were caused not by the many stevedores employed, but by their bosses, whose lead, for the most part, the workers followed. In the metal mines however, with their long history, the situation was different from the coal mines.Here there were organizations called Tomokodomei - a miners' brotherhood which had existed among skilled underground workers - tunnel drillers and ore-getters - since Tokugawa times. The men would meet on a regular basis,and were accustomed to exchange opinions and choose representatives. Whatever was decided at the meeting was deemed binding on all miners as the general will of the workforce, and it therefore came to function as the basis of collective action.*3

The series of strikes which took place in 1885 and 1886 among the silk workers of Kofu also had a common origin. The silk factory owners of Kofu, who were dependent on local female labour, stopped trying to recruit each other's workers and banded together in an employers' association with the aim of keeping down wages. The strikes broke out in opposition to wage cuts, fines and charges decided by the employers' association.*4 Now not only in this early period, but throughout the years leading up to the First World War, nearly half the disputes in the silk manufacturing industry occurred in Yamanashi Prefecture, while in Nagano Prefecture, the main centre of silk manufacturing, there were only three disputes recorded in the whole of this period.*5 The owners in Nagano recruited workers from different areas of the country in addition to local labour and housed them in company dormitories, which gave them constant control over their employees' daily lives. They also ensured competition amongst their workers by paying them at different rates for their work (according to quality and quantity) together with bonuses and fines, thus making it difficult for frustrations over wages to turn into common grievances. All of this was different from employment practices in Yamanashi Prefecture and probably accounts for the low number of disputes.

A particular question presents itself here, namely, why there were so few disputes involving craftsmen and artisans in this period? The Meiji Restoration had brought about great changes in the position of artisans within society. During the Tokugawa era, the artisans' best patrons and clients were the samurai, and in order to satisfy the samurai demand for quality weapons, armaments and other luxury goods, artisans tended to gravitate towards castle towns. But the abolition of the samurai as a class by the Meiji government meant the inevitable decline of those artisans whose best customers were samurai. These handicraftsmen, however, were not the only ones to be hit by the new order. For example, the opening up of the country to imports of western goods and technology had a heavy influence on artisans in all building trades. Cheap foreign nails put the nailmaker out of work;*6 foreign sawing machines meant that the sawyer's traditional skills were no longer needed, to name but two examples. The Meiji authorities ordered the breakup of the Nakama, guild-like organisations of artisans and merchants, and prohibited them from controlling prices. Despite all this, there is hardly any record of resistance by the workers involved.

The same phenomenon can be observed among workers in more modern industries. Mining, for example, was an area in which disturbances among the workers were relatively commonplace, but these centered round wages and mistreatment by their company officials and gang bosses. There is no record of opposition to the use of explosives, to the introduction of drilling machines or western blast furnaces.*7 This lack of opposition to new technology is one of the most important 'trademarks' of the Japanese labour movement, in fact. There were certainly plenty of disputes in which the workers demanded higher wages or opposed company attempts to cut wages, but there was no opposition to piecework systems and no efforts to have working hours reduced. This can be traced to the characteristics of urban life and of artisan society in pre-Meiji Japan, in short, to the lack of a western-style guild system.

Again, mob violence did break out from time to time in mines and factories, but there was hardly any Luddite-style machine-breaking, nor did the violence extend to much more than the breaking of windows or the beating up of officials. The same applies to the larger scale riots of later years, and even in the cases of violence against gang bosses, deaths were extremely rare.

The second period after 1897 was a period of rapid development for the Japanese capitalist economy. Its first year (1897) also saw the beginnings of the modern Japanese trade-union movement with the establishment of a union for metal-workers. The number of industrial disputes in 1897 was out of all proportion to the levels of previous years. More strikes were recorded in this one year alone than in all the previous eight. The government's own strike statistics, which were first collated in July of that year, clearly show that strikes were considered a major social problem. The wave of strikes subsided somewhat after 1898, but even so, the level was two or three times that of the pre-1896 years. The main features of the new period were an increase in the number of disputes in modern industries - factories, mines and railways - and the beginning of organized preparation for industrial action rather than spontaneous outbursts.

A typical, or rather, leading example of industrial action in this second period is the Japan Railway Company's engineers' and stokers' dispute, which began in February 1898. The strike was over the demand for an improvement of status within the company, the largest private railway company in the country, and over demands for wage increases. The railwaymen formed a secret association and sent their demands to the company in numerous anonymous letters. Meanwhile a work-to-rule was instituted. When the company discovered who the ringleaders were and were about to sack them, a coded signal went out to all locomotive yards and the engineers struck, bringing all the company's trains to a halt.*8 The company was forced to meet with the workers' representatives, and the dispute finally ended in victory for the strikers. In the same year,ships' carpenters in Tokyo and Yokohama formed a union, and a dispute followed with demands for higher wages.

The other pivotal year in the period before World War I was 1907, in which the peak of ten years earlier was surpassed and the greatest number of disputes rcorded. There were large-scale riots at Japan's two leading copper mines, Ashio and Besshi, which could only be suppressed by the use of troops.*9 A union had been formed at Ashio by an individual socialist, and this union began to lead demands for wage rises. Violence broke out when work-gang leaders tried to crush the union by plotting and provoking a riot. With major disputes in mines, military arsenals and shipyards, the year 1907 saw more than 230 disputes and at least 130 strikes in total involving tens of thousands of workers.

What was behind the upsurge in the number of labour disputes in 1897? After the Sino Japanese War (1894-5), the government imposed a monopoly on the sale of tobacco and brought in new taxes on liquor sales; these measures and others pushed up prices and were aimed at the masses of the people, because they were intended to raise significant amounts of revenue for the government's policy of increasing the armed forces. Prices in towns and cities were 14.3% higher than in the previous year. In addition, rice production was down in 1897 forcing food prices up by 20.6%. The trend towards rising food prices had continued since 1895, and compared with four years earlier, 1897 prices represented an increase of 42.2%.*10

The great number of disputes in 1907 can also be traced to real wages falling in the wake of dramatic price increases. This time it was to pay for the Russo-Japanese War, which cost the country \2,000 million, that the government instituted a policy of indirect taxation: it further tightened the tobacco monopoly, introduced a state monopoly on salt and issued great numbers of Bank of Japan notes to pay back foreign loans. The salt monopoly in particular hit ordinary people hard, because of its effect on the price of staples such as miso (bean paste) and shoyu (soy sauce) as well as on the price of salt itself.

It is certainly the case then, that the peaks in the number of labour disputes were closely related to these price increases, especially increases in the price of food, and the consequent fall in real wages. This was what lay behind the workers' main demand for higher wages in the disputes. However, the increases in the number of disputes in these years cannot simply be explained by falling living standards due to price rises. A great many of the workers who took part in the disputes were not low-paid, but belonged rather to the higher wage brackets. The wages of railwaymen with the Japan Railway Company for example were, even at the time of the 1898 dispute, markedly higher than those of workers in other industries. But whereas the wages in those other industries had generally risen in response to price increases, their own wages had not. The wave of unrest of 1907 was set in motion by the dispute at the Ashio copper mine, and the miners who led the action for wage rises at Ashio were among the highest paid workers in Japan at that time. They were suffering too, of course, but their 'suffering' was not a question of not having enough to eat; rather they were 'suffering' from the feeling that their wage levels were not better than those in other jobs and industries. When that relative prosperity was no longer evident, or seemed in danger, the miners would move into action over some grievance or other.

This tendency did not just apply to Japan Railways and Ashio copper mine; it can be generally seen throughout the rapidly expanding large-scale industries. In addition to Ashio, there were outbreaks of violence at Besshi copper mine at Yubari and Horonai coal mines in 1907. These were also mines in which the workers were relatively 'well-paid' compared to other mines. Why then were these disputes and outbreaks of violence concentrated in places where the working conditions were relatively good? In the period prior to the disputes, very high production levels had been achieved at great speed in the companies concerned. Unable to rely on their local areas to supply them with sufficient labour for the necessary rapid expansion, the factories and mines were forced to pay higher wages than in other enterprises in order to attract labour from further afield. They could pay good wages because productivity was high. Once they had secured the size of workforce necessary to meet their requirements however, management sought to restrain wage levels from rising further. This of course created problems for the workers whose standard of living was already adjusted to the higher level of wages. Also, they were continually exploited by their gang bosses, a system of exploitation that did not disappear overnight when real wages dropped. With inflation in the economy, workers faced either debt or a significant fall in their standard of living. Furthermore, the companies which employed very large numbers of workers were organized on a bureaucratic basis and had no means of correctly assessing and dealing with the workers' grievances.*11

In addition to the workers' frustration with wage levels, another important factor which needs to be noted as contributing to the disputes and unrest of this period is that of discrimination against 'blue collar workers'.*12 Few labour disputes in Japan have ever simply been a matter of economics; most have included or even been centred round strongly moral or emotional issues. The root cause of many disputes which suddenly flared up, revealing the workers' daily frustration, was a resentment of discrimination, which led to demands 'to be treated equally'. Engineers and foremen tended to make their contempt for ordinary workers only too clear, and this contempt, along with a lack of good faith and a disregard for simple humanity on the part of owners and managers, was a major factor contributing to the increase in labour unrest. As will be seen later, more voices were raised within the trade-union movement for improving the social status of workers and for respect for their human rights than for economic improvements in working conditions. Of course, this is not to say that Japanese workers were unconcerned about wages, but rather that, for them, the wages paid by a company were a reflection of 'identity' or 'status' within the company. In Japanese society at that time, those who enjoyed a high social status were also expected to be individuals with high ethical standards. High salaries and wages were therefore regarded not simply as a matter of economics, but as reflections of a person's moral worth.

Why this was so can be traced back to the circumstances surrounding the Meiji Restoration. At that time the feudal class system was abolished and the abolition was not in name only; the four classes of Tokugawa society-samurai, farmer, artisan, merchant-did actually cease to exist, and for the lower classes of the feudal era, from the lower ranks of the samurai downwards, who had all been subject to status dependent upon the fact of their birth, this was a genuine social advance. However, the Restoration was not able to carry through the implications of the abolition of the class system, and social status continued to be determinated by occupation. The authoritarian control of the new social order with the Emperor at the top permeated society and industry. Factory workers in the new industries, forced to work by the pressure of economic distress, tended to be looked down upon as 'the lower orders' by other members of society. The fact that factory workers,shokko, would frequently call themselves shokunin (craftsman or artisan) shows the pervasive influence of the familiar feudal status system which had held manual factory work in very low esteem. Factory workers were discriminated against by their bosses and managers as well as by other members of society. Factory production demanded a strict delineation of work and clear chains of command, and those whose only experience of life had been in a society bound by status naturally regarded those chains of command in terms of status relationships.

Japanese workers therefore did not as a rule feel antipathy against such status relationships in themselves; they simply did not see why they should inevitably be looked down on as members of the lower classes, or for being company operatives -they did not see themselves that way. Neither did they have any feelings of 'working-class pride', of 'them and us'., or that a worker's son naturally follows in his father's footsteps. Such considerations were alien to them. They set their sights on raising their status within society as a whole.To stretch a point, one could even say that Japanese manual workers were people who did not really wish to be manual workers and that if there was no chance of improvement for themselves then they would do their best to see that their children would get a good education so that at least they would not have to be manual workers.

They did not, however, oppose status distinctions in principle. Tokugawa society had been bound by status, but at the same time it was a society with a strong bent towards meritocracy.*13 Those of a high social standing were expected to be persons of great ability. Such meritocratic values were given a tremendous boost by the establishment of the Meiji public education system. If a man had ability, then his inferiors had no difficulty in recognizing his higher status, but if he did not, then that would give rise to great resentment and frustration. It was the level of one's education which determinated status and function within a company: those with an elementary school education provided the bulk of the workforce; middle-school graduates became the clerks and foremen, and university graduates could all expect management jobs. The level of one's education was, to a certain extent, a reflection of one's abilities, but what caused so much resentment among workers was the fact that education was all too often dependent on levels of parental income rather than ability. Compulsory education spread quickly throughout the country, and apart from a few examples, elementary school education was not affected by parental status. Landlords' and tenants' children would study side by side and the determining factors were the children's records and their physical strength. Money made its influence felt on graduation from elementary school. If the family was poor,the child would have to go out to work, and with an elementary education,he could only hope to become a manual worker, no matter how bright he might be. The frustration with this state of things was to be highly significant for the labour movement in that it provided the movement with many of its activists. The fact that many of these men came from the ranks of the relatively higher paid rather than from the mass of lower paid workers is surely due to their being of greater ability and intelligence and to their sensitivity to the kind of educational discrimination I have mentioned. When the Japan Railway engineers went on strike, one of their demands was for improved status. The company recognized this and promoted those men who had played a leading role in the movement. The union thus lost some of its most active members,but welcomed the promotions.



The Trade-Union Movement

The Japanese trade-union movement had its beginning in the Association for the Formation of Trade Unions (Rodokumiai Kiseikal) which first met in July 1897.*14 This was not itself a trade union, but rather a propagandist and educational group which aimed at the promotion of a trade-union movement. Its members were not only workers but also some intellectuals and even a few capitalists who had sympathies with the labour movement. The forerunner of the Association had been founded in 1891 in San Francisco by a group of Japanese who were there studying labour problems and who called themselves the Friends of Labour (Shokkogiyukai).*15 Prominent among them were Fusataro Takano, journalist, Han'nosuke Sawada, tailor, and Tsunetaro Jo, shoemaker. These men had been impressed by the high standard of living of the masses of the people in America, and having discovered that what lay behind it were the trade unions, they resolved to organize something similar in Japan. Fusataro Takano, the group's leader, had met Samuel Gompers during his stay in America and had been taught by him. He had also been formally appointed in the AFL organizer for Japan*16 Sen Katayama,*17 who was later to sit on the Executive Committee of the Comintern, also took part in the Association and led it together with Takano. The majority of the men who joined the Association were workers in the engineering industry. In December of that same year 1897, they founded the Metalworkers' Union (Tekkokumiai). The Union expanded rapidly and in its first year organized 3,000 men in 32 branches. At its peak, it had 5,400 members in 42 branches, mainly in eastern Japan. Eleven of these branches were at the Tokyo Military Arsenal, six were at the Ishikawajima shipyard, and five were at the Japan Railway Company's Locomotive Repair and Engine Yards.

On the day of the founding of the Metalworkers' Union, Sen Katayama published the first issue of the journal Rodo Sekai ('Labour World') of which he was also the editor. Rodo Sekai served to publicize the activities of the Metalworkers' Union and the Association for the Formation of Trade Unions, acting as their mouthpiece. The journal was Katayama's private publication, however, and when he later turned to socialism, some delicate disagreements developed between him and the association.

Taking the American Federation of Labor as his model, Takano thought that the Metalworkers' Union should be a craft union, but the union itself was actually very far from that. The qualification for joining the union was not restricted to those skilled men who had gone through an apprenticeship. Anyone working in the metalworking and engineering industries was eligible for membership; in fact, when the union's fortunes began to turn down, even the requirement that one had to be a metalworker was dropped. In the circumstances, there was no way that the union could exercize significant control over wages and working conditions. In its drive for new members, the union's main 'selling point' was its mutual aid for workers who could no longer work due to accident or illness, but there was no unemployment fund such as one would expect in a craft union. The mutual aid fund certainly helped to attract new members, but within two years of the founding of the union, it was to become a drain on the union's finances and one of the major reasons for its decline.

Aside from the metalworkers, following victory in their strike of February 1898, the railway workers went on to found the Kyoseikai, or Society for the Correction of Abuses at the beginning of April.*18 This was a company-based union with membership restricted to locomotive engineers and stokers of the Japan Railway Company. But because this union was born in the heat of a strike, it was considerably more effective than the Metalworkers' Union in gaining for its members improvements in working conditions. It did, however, refuse applications to join from railway workers in other companies and remained a company union. Branches of the Metalworkers' Union did exist within the Japan Railway Company nevertheless, and line workers soon formed their own union and began to press for improvements in conditions.

Around the same time, Tokyo printers also formed a union. Although the intellectual level of workers in the printing industry needed to be high, this was not reflected in their wages. Unionization of print workers therefore began early and was achieved under the influence of the Association for the Formation of Trade Unions.

None of these early unions lasted longer than three or four years. I shall examine the reason for this later. Suffice it to say that the direct cause was the government's anti-union policy, notably the Public Order and Police Provisions Law, passed in March 1900, which dealt a heavy blow to the newly-born trade-union movement.

A heavy blow, but not a knock-out: two years later the Society of Loyal Supporters of Japanese Labour (Dainihon Rodo Shiseikat) was formed around the Yubari coal miners Tsuruzo Nagaoka and Sukematsu Minami.*19 Under the influence of Sen Katayama, Nagaoka had resolved to organize Japanese miners nationwide. In 1903, he appeared at Ashio, Japan's largest copper mine, overcame obstructions from the police and the management and in 1907 began to be influential among the workforce due to his involvement in wage claim campaigns. However, as already mentioned, the miners' actions were hampered by outbreaks of violence started by an agent provocateur, in which large numbers of union members were arrested, and the organization collapsed. In 1912 Bunji Suzuki, a graduate of Tokyo Imperial University, formed the Yuaikai (the Friendly Society), which promoted the development of a trade-union movement, but which, at the time of its founding, was no more than a friendship society for workers which aimed at the improvement of the social status of working people.*20 Suzuki taught that workers must realize the acred character of work itself, and that by developing their skills and training, they must strive to be accepted by the rest of society. His ideas were particularly well-received received by skilled metalworkers and seamen. Japan's metalworking and steel industries, notably shipbuilding and electrics, received a great stimulus from the outbreak of World War 1 and expanded rapidly. The number of factory workers generally saw the same rapid increases. Aided by the more favourable in ternational atmosphere brought about in the wake of the war and by developments such as the founding of the ILO, the Yuaikai went on to become a union and to represent Japan internationally. But in 1914, it was a small organization with only 3,000 members and retained the character of a friendship society.

Despite the considerable number of industrial disputes in this early period then, and the fact that many of them were by no means gentle affairs, the activity of organized labour was limited and the percentage of workers unionized was small. At its peak, membership of the most advanced union-the metalworkers-did not exceed 3,000, a mere 5 % of the 60,000 workers employed in the metalworking industries, and fewer than half the members actually paid their dues. Most of the union's branches were in Tokyo area; in Osaka and western Japan there was no organisational base at all. The union's activity only lasted three or four years. In 1901 the Kyoseikai disbanded, bowing to vigorous pressure from companies and the police following the passing of the Public Order And Police Provisions Law.

The main problem was that unions at that time were weak in defending and mproving working conditions. Above all, there was virtually no organization in Japan which could be called a craft union. There was no total organization of the workers within a particular trade in any one area and therefore no union control of the labour market. Most skilled workers were trained by the company, and so unions were unable to control the supply of skilled labour. This is not to say that trade unions did not exist in Japan. Even before the founding of Kyoseikai, there had been strikes which had secured improvements in working conditions, and the union at Ashio copper mine had campaigned for higher wages. But the Japanese unions had no means of achieving their objectives other than strikes, and none of them had finances to support strikes. Finally, strike agitation was banned altogether by the Public Order and Police Provisions Law.

To this day, most Japanese unions have been singularly unsuccessful in controlling working conditions beyond the framework of the individual company and have largely remained so-called 'enterprise unions', organized on a company basis. Organizations such as the Metalworkers' Union and the Yuaikai had branches in a number of companies, and may appear to have been no different from a craft union. Subsequent histories of the labour movement in Japan have indeed considered the Metalworkers' Union to be a craft union,*21 but in fact, it was a collection of branches made up of workers in the same workplaces in the same industries. Neither was there any regional unity of organization within the same industry, so that when a member quitted or was fired, it usually meant automatic withdrawal from the union.

The main point in common among the unions and organizations which had some success in this period is that they all aimed at improving the social status of workers, notably by programmes of workers' self-education and training aimed at winning recognition for workers in society at large. The movement's leadership and its most active members considered calling for an end to habits of excessive drinking, gambling and fighting. The Japan Railway Company's Kyoseikai chose that name because of its desire to get rid of the 'age-old vices', as they were known, and started a temperance campaign for the same reason.The journal 'Labour World' also opposed the popularity of gambling among workers, and encouraged the habit of saving. Such actions clearly reflected the strong fustrations which many felt about the discriminatory attitudes towards workers prevalent at the time.



The Political Movement

Since there was no universal suffrage in this period, workers of course did not have the right to vote, and there was no positive participation by workers in political movements. Even an organization like the Rodokumiai Kiseikai restricted its political activity to campaigning for a revision of the factory legislation bill. One might have expected some action against the Public Order and Police Provisions Law, which had outlawed strike agitation, but no significant opposition developed. Within Kiseikai itself, Sen Katayama, who had experienced anti-union pressure and harrassment from the police and the Japan Railway Company, was the first to realize the importance of political action. He leaned increasingly towards socialism and started a column on it in his 'Labour World' in which he advocated the cause of socialism and reported on developments in socialist movements abroad. Katayama's view of socialism in Japan was moderate; he believed that, if universal suffrage could be achieved, then a socialist revolution was possible through the ballot box even under the Imperial Japanese Constitution. His view led to clashes with Fusataro Takano whose own position was anti-socialist and based on trade unionism pure and simple.

The Japanese socialist movement began with the academic study of socialism by intellectuals who were gradually converted by their subject of study.*22 In 1898 Sen Katayama, Iso Abe and others founded the Society for the Study of Socialism, a group which declared its intention to 'study the principles of socialism with a view to determining whether or not they are applicable to Japan'. The Society went a step further in 1900, renamed itself the Socialist Society and began to propagandize actively on behalf of socialism. The following year, Abe and Katayama founded the first Japanese socialist political party -the Social Democratic Party (Shakaiminshuto). The party put forward a programme consisting of eight basic principles, including abolition of the class system, disarmament, and nationalization of the means of production, and twenty-eight immediate demands such as abolition of the House of Peers, universal suffrage, repeal of the Public Order and Police Provisions Law and enactment of trade-union legislation. The government, however, soon moved to ban the new party. Significantly, of the six founders of the party, all except Shusui Kotoku were Protestant christians. The leading activists of the Japan Railway Company's Kyoseikai were also christians, and were known for their enthusiasm for the temperance movement. The number of christians in the whole of Japan did not exceed 1 % of the population, yet christians played a leading role in the early years of the socialist movement.*23

What accounts for this? One reason is that christianity had been a proscribed religion until the Meiji Restoration, and so when the individual who felt his freedom shackled by State Shinto, the Emperor system and the paternalistic family system, became a christian, he invited considerable censure and criticism from other members of society. This made christians very sensitive to the contradictions within the social order, and for people aware of social injustices, christianity provided a spiritual haven and a source of spiritual support. Also for Japanese at the turn of the century who were poor, the only foreign country they could travel to was America, where the Social Gospel movement was at its peak. Furthermore, of all christian groups, it was the North American Protestant denominations which were putting the strongest effort into missionary work in Japan throughout the latter half of the nineteenth century.*24

Many Japanese who went abroad to study were drawn to scientific and rationalist thought and as a result were strongly influenced by unitarianism. Iso Abe, who wrote the Declaration of the Social Democratic Party, and Bunji Suzuki, who founded the Yuaikai, were both unitarians. The base for the meetings of the Society for the Study of Socialism and of the Yuaikai was the headquarters of the Japanese Unitarian Society.

There was therefore a strong tendency for the Japanese socialist movement to assume a theoretical character, much influenced by translations from foreign sources, and to be centered round intellectuals. 'Labour World' and the other Japanese socialist journals of the time regularly carried articles written in English. This shows the extent of interest in the international scene and a desire to be part of the international socialist movement.*25 At the same time, it cannot be denied that it also shows how far removed the activists were from the daily concerns of the ordinary Japanese worker.

Just before and during the Russo Japanese War (1904-5) the early socialists were able to have an influence to some extent on Japanese society. Shusui Kotoku*26 and Toshihiko Sakai founded the Commoners' Society and published the newspaper, 'The Commoners' Weekly', which carried articles strongly opposed to the war. They wrote letters expressing solidarity with Russian socialists, and sent Sen Katayama as their representative to the assembly of the Second International in Amsterdam.

The Saionji Cabinet, formed in January 1906 after the Russo Japanese War, was predisposed to recognize the socialist movement, so Sakai and others founded the Japan Socialist Party (Nihon Shakaito). Mindful of the fate of the Social Democratic Party, they did not put forward a general programme and managed to avoid a government ban by their party's statement that it would advance the socialist cause 'within the bounds laid down by the Constitution'. The new party thus became the first officially recognized socialist party in Japan. Soon, however, serious friction developed within the party between those such as Shusui Kotoku who favoured direct revolutionary action and who had no time for the parliamentary process, and those who looked to the realization of socialist goals through uiversal suffrage and the representation of labour in the Diet. Sen Katayama belonged to this group. Eventually, at the 1907 Party Convention, the party's principles were amended to read: 'The goal of this party is the full implementation of socialism'. The government responded with a ban on the party. In the more radical wing there now began to be talk of assassinating the Emperor, and in 1910 the government arrested a number of people on charges of conspiring to commit high treason and plotting to assassinate the Emperor.Twelve including Kotoku were executed and twelve others sentenced to life imprisonment. Thereafter, the pressure on socialists was severe and the movement went through a bleak period which continued until the end of the First World War.

During this period then, Japanese socialism was basically no more than an intellectual movement. The unions were still weak, and participation by workers in political activity did not go beyond small numbers of individuals attracted to this or that group. The one exception was the group of five or six leading activists of the union at Ashio copper mine who all joined the Japan Socialist Party. The appearance of proletarian political parties in the new post-war atmosphere, particularly with the granting of universal male suffrage in 1925, meant that, for the first time, the workers and peasant farmers could enter the political arena with organizations of their own.



The Causes of the Weakness of the Japanese Trade-Union Movement

The theme of the international research project upon which we are engaged is: what are the determinants of the development of working-class movements? But in the Japanese case, the question is probably better approached from the opposite direction, in other words, what accounts for the Japanese union movement's lack of progress? Japanese capitalism succeeded in a very short time in achieving a sgnificant level of industrialization, but the Japanese working-class movement was unable to establish a stable organizational base. Why?
1) It has often been observed that due to the persistence of small scale farming, the numerical strength of the industrial working class was small relative to total population (See Table 3).

Table 3  Ratio between agricultural working population and non-agricultural workingpopulation in Japan, 1872-1915
(in thousands)(%)
5 years unitTotal
working
population
(A)
working
population
in agri-
culture &
forestry
(B)
working
population
in non-
agricultural
industries
(C=A-B)
B/AC/A
1872-521,41415,5555,85972.627.4
  76-8021,73015,6246,10671.928.1
  81-8522,11515,6506,46570.829.2
  86-9022,68315,6257,05968.931.1
  91-9523,45815,5097,94966.133.9
96-190024,11915,6188,50164.835.2
1901-0524,75215,8438,90964.036.0
  06-1025,28816,0049,28463.336.7
  11-1525,95015,76010,19060.739.3
        Source: Mataji Umemura, 'Sangyo betu koyo no hendo: 1880-1940',
        Keizai Kenkyu, Vol. 24, no 2 (April 1973), pp. 112, 116.


The number of people engaged in agriculture showed hardly any change from the 1870s until 1915, only increasing from 15,500,000 to 16,000,000. By contrast, there was a progressive increase, paralleling the progress of industrialization and amounting to more than 70% over the forty year period, in the numbers of those engaged in non-agricultural employment: 5,860,000 in 1872-5, 7,000,000 in 1886-90, 8,500,000 in 1896-1900 and more than 10,000,000 in 1911-15. Nevertheless, the number of workers engaged in agriculture and forestry relative to the total working population remained high:60.7% even in the years 1911-15, while the percentage of those not engaged in agriculture and forestry relative to the working population showed only a modest increase over the same period: 27.4% in the early 1870s, 33.9% in the early 1890s, and 39.3 % by 1915. Neither, of course, do the figures for the non-agricultural working population give an accurate picture of the numbers of industrial workers, for they also include owners, managers, civil servants, merchants, and all those engaged in service occupations. A generous estimate might put the numbers of industrial workers at half these figures.

Furthermore, it must be remembered that over half of the total number of factory workers were in the silk and cotton industries. Nearly 85% were women, and many of them were very young. In 1909, the 500,886 workers employed in the textile industry represented 60% of the 842,160 workers in factories in the private sector employing more than five people. Of this 60%, 84% (418,993) were women.*27 There were many shops in silk reeling and weaving which employed fewer than five workers, and in these factories, the percentage of women workers was even higher. This fact was restraining influence on the development of the Japanese labour movement. Under the paternalistic codes of rural village life, women were constantly in a position of obedience to their elders and betters, so that one could hardly expect them to participate readily in a labour movement, which necessarily involved some confrontation with employers. In addition, most of them were migrant workers who spent only a part of their lives in the factory. As a rule, they entered employment at twelve or thirteen and left at twenty or twenty-two to get married.*28 The majority of workers in the silk industry were seasonal labour, because the factories tories were closed during the winter. It was clearly difficult to expect farmers' daughters, who knew that they would not be spending their working lives in the factory, to develop a consciousness as members of the working class. The only way they could register their opposition to ill-treatment was to run away or move to another factory. These were all important limiting factors in the development of the Japanese working-class movement.
2) It was only in the factories in the private sector however, that women represented more than half the total workforce. When the overwhelmingly large numbers of men in the state-run shipyards and arsenals, mining and transport industries are taken into account, as well as the male-dominated crafts such as carpentry and masonry, then it has to be recognized that in absolute terms, the total number of workers who could have taken up the labour movement was by no means small. Furthermore, Japan's urbanization had been developing for some time and most members of the working class were concentrated in the Tokyo and Osaka areas. Neither was there any shortage of large-scale firms which could employ such men. In 1909 21,000 were employed at the Kure naval yards and there were more than 30 factories and mines which employed over 3000 workers, mostly men.*29

There are no extant statistics for the total numbers of craftsmen, only numbers relating to the individual crafts. During the period 1880 and 1910, there were between 160,000 and 180,000 carpenters, 70-90,000 woodsawers, and 25-35,000 stonemasons.*30 When one adds to these the numbers of wood-cutters, plasterers, fixture-makers, rooftile makers, roofers, and bricklayers, then in the building trades alone, a conservative estimate would amount to some 400,000 men. To this number can also be added the not inconsiderable numbers of blacksmiths, joiners,coopers, horseshoers and potters.

The number of potential trade-union members was not restricted just to these trades, which tended to remain fairly stable over the years. The number of workers in transport-related occupations, on the other hand, rose rapidly over the same period. For example, in 1885, there were only 1940 workers employed on the railways. By 1895, this had increased to 31,451, then to 77,571 in 1905 and to 150,152 in 1914.*31 The number of workers engaged in the haulage trade is reflected in the number of cargo carts and drays, which increased from 173,000 in 1878 to 490,000 in 1885, to 1,050,000 in 1896 and to 1,460,000 in 1910.*32 All these figures clearly show that even in the years before the world war, the essential precondiction for the development of a Japanese working-class movement, namely its numerical strength, was by no means lacking.

All these workers had reason enough to feel frustrated, both socially and eonomically. Their wages were low in comparison to the capitalist's profits and also by any international standard. Furthermore, directly after the two foreign wars, the government had sought to increase its military budget by raising taxes, which had the result of raising prices, depressing workers' real wages and lowering their standard of living. The frustration which workers felt about this was clearly reflected in the number of industrial disputes during the period. Taking all these factors into consideration, one might think it natural that the workers would seek to form unions or at least feel the need to participate. And yet, one sees no evidence of the steady development of the union movement in these years. What accounts for this?
3) One answer has already been indicated a number of times throughout this discussion-the authoritarian power of the government and its anti-union attitude. Of particular importance is the passing in 1900 of the Public Order and Police Provisions Law with its Article 17 which prohibited strike agitation. It was without doubt the anti-union attitude of the government as displayed by this law, the prevention of union meetings by the police, and the constant pressure on unions from employers, supported by the police and the government, which led directly to the failure of the Metalworkers' Union and Kyoseikai.

This fiercely anti-union stance of the Meji government was not so much a reaction to circumstances already created by the union movement; rather, it strongly bore the character of a preventive policy which the government had decided on in advance, based on developments in western countries. The police put far greater pressure on the fledgling trade-union movement than the circumstances actually warranted; in fact, they were seeking to strangle it at birth delayed by capitalist opposition, and while the Factory Law was passed in 1911, it did not become operative until 1916. Such political and legal restraints were another important determinant in the development of the labour movement.

And yet it is of course true that Japan was not the only country in which the labour movement was under pressure. This has tended to be the case everywhere in the early years of such movements. Also, the Public Order and Police Provisions Law went no further than banning agitation and incitement to strike. Strikes nevertheless took place notwithstanding the existence of the law. There was no law passed which prohibited the forming of trade unions. At the Ashio copper mine, a union was formed and continued in existence for a short time even after the Public Order and Police Provisions Law had been passed. It is clear that political and legal restraints alone cannot account for the weakness of the Japanese labour movement.
4) A salient point is the fact that there had never existed in Japan the kind of craft unions found in the West. Labour unions did of course develop in Japan, but they were something very far from the concept of the craft union. Even the Metalworkers' Union and Kyoseikai were formed without any stipulation that one first had to have served an apprenticeship; in fact, such a thought was almost absent from the beginning of these two organizations.

Some Japanese scholars offer the following explanation of this fact.*33 The organizational bases of the Metalworkers' Union and others were the military arsenals and shipyards, and the railways. These were all industries based on the use of the latest western technology and in which traditional Japanese craft skills were redundant. For this reason, workers could only be trained up by companies. Also, the new technology was introduced at a period in the development of industrialization when the nature of skills themselves was changing, when trades were being broken up into specialized jobs. For these reasons, there was no possibility in Japan for the formation of a strong and solid class of multi-skilled handcraftsmen as in the West. Furthermore, due to the rapid growth of the new heavy industries, there was an equally rapid growth in the demand for skilled labour which made it impossible to organize the labour force through apprenticeship-related entry into the union, which was the norm for western craft unions. Such is the gist of the argument.

There were, however, jobs in the modern industries in which the traditional skills of Japanese craftsmen, such as blacksmiths and iron workers, could be put to use. In these industries, employment was indirect in that work was sub-contracted out to labour gang bosses. Much of the training of new workers was also therefore the responsibility of these bosses. Also, the rapid increase in demand for skilled labour surely favoured worker control of the labour market. The introduction of new technology alone therefore does not sufficiently explain why craft unions did not develop in Japan. The case of the traditional craftsmen and miners make such a conclusion even more evident. The level of the traditional skills of these crafsmen even in the Meiji era was extremely high, and there were many industries and occupations which, both in human and technological terms, had long and stable histories behind them, especially those in the building trade: carpenters, stonemasons, plasterers, roof-tile makers, roofers, fixture makers,and tatami mat makers. These crafts all had their own apprenticeship systems and their own independent mutual aid groups. They did not, however, develop a means of regulating the labour market by entry into the craft. Neither did they oppose the introduction of foreign technology, as was pointed out earlier in this paper.

The prime movers in the early years of union movements in the West had been craftsmen rather than factory workers, yet in Japan, workers in crafts with long established traditions did not play any such leading role in the trade-nion movement. This must be a fact of crucial importance in any assessment of the weaknesses of the Japanese union movement.

Behind this phenomenon lie a number of deep-rooted historical factors.*34 Firstly, there is the question of the differences in the character of urban life between towns in Tokugawa Japan and those in mediaeval Europe. In Japan there were no free cities such as existed in Europe and no European-style independent self-governing guilds of merchants and craftsmen. Since the beginning of the Tokugawa shogunate in the 17th century, most towns in Japan were castle towns under the direct control of the local feudal lord. Any citizens' organizations were held to be at the service of the local lord. The services of artisans' organizations were rendered in place of taxes and the organizations were therefore created from above to serve the lord's needs. In 1721 the Tokugawa government issued an order for the formation of unions, but the purpose of this was to organize merchants and craftsmen in order to prevent a rise in prices, and limitations on membership of these unions were forbidden. The unions did of course try to regulate wages and working hours, but such attempts were also forbidden by the lords on the grounds that they raised prices. There were also some attempts to restrict membership, and these too were prohibited without opposition. These attempts by producers to determine their own conditions of work were not only proscribed by the authorities; they were also opposed by other citizens, by the consumers, who believed that independent wage regulation and restrictions on union membership were unjust. The lack of a Japanese equivalent for the English word 'stint' reveals the lack of any kind of guild-consciousness which seeks to regulate the amount of work done or the number of hours worked.

Connected with these considerations are the differing attitudes of workers in japan and the West towards competition. Regulating competition in wages, working hours and the amount of work done was at the very basis of western guild practice. In Japan, on the other hand, there was a strong meritocratic tendency which favoured competition, and a deeply-rooted belief that those with ability should be well-rewarded. There is currently insufficient research which allows one to judge whether this attitude resulted in the lack of craft guilds or whether the absence of guilds itself resulted in the spread of such an attitude. Either way, it is certainly the case that, guild practices prevailed only when they were recognized by society and allowed to prevail. The comparative lack of opposition in the history of the Japanese labour movement to piecework systems is not unrelated to this fact. There has also been hardly any opposition among Japanese workers to the introduction of new technology nor have there been any of the 'restrictive practices' of western trade unions. These facts have made it extremely easy for Japanese companies to introduce new technology smoothly on a continuous basis, something which needs to be emphasized, because it has been one of the conditions which have made possible the rapid development of the Japanese economy. For the craft guild and union, it is important that their craft be socially recognized and established as such, but this feeling is lacking in Japan, and the boundaries between skilled, semi-skilled and unskilled labour are blurred. This is why Japanese workers have traditionally not been averse to changing jobs, and why they are said to be company rather than craft oriented. The largely company-based unionsin today's Japanese economy and the special characteristics of industrial relations in Japan cannot be understood without taking into consideration this lack of a craft tradition and what it means for the development of a labour movement.
Translated by Terry M. Boardman




Note

*1. Although published more than thirty years ago, the following two studies remain the best works relating to the theme of this paper:Kazuo Okochi, Reimeiki no Nihon rodo undo (Tokyo,1952) and Mikio Sumiya,Nihon chinrodo shi ron (Tokyo, 1955).
With readers in mind, other Japanese references for this paper have been restricted to statistical studies and to particularly significant research. Of the studies in English, especially recommended is Andrew Gordon's book, which is based on the results of the latest research into Japanese labour history as well as the author's own views. This and other relevant studies in English include: Sheldon Garon, The State and Labor in Modern Japan (Berkeley and Los Angeles, 1987); Andrew Gordon, The Evolution of Labour Relations in Japan: Heavy Industry, 1853-1955 (Cambridge Mass., 1985); Robert A. Scalapino, The Early Japanese Labor Movement(Berkeley, 1983); Stefano Bellieni, Notes on the History of the Left-Wing Movement in Meiji Japan (Napoli, 1979); George Oakley Totten, The Social Democratic Movement in Prewarfapan (New Haven and London,1966).

*2. For the Takashima coal mine riots, see Nisaburo Murakushi, Nihon ianko chinrodo shi ron (Tokyo,1975). The discussion of the causes of the riots in the present paper,however, includes the author's own interpretation.

*3. For the positive role played by Tomokodomei in organizing labour disputes, see Kazuo Nimura, Ashio bodb no shiteki bunseki-kozan rodosha no shakaishi (Tokyo, 1988), chapter one.

*4. For a study of the strikes by female textile workers in Kofu, see Sayoko Yoneda, 'Meiji l9nen no Kofu seishi joko sogi ni tsuite', in: Rekishi kagaku hyogikai (ed.), Rodo undo shi (Tokyo, 1981).

*5. Of the forty-eight labour disputes in the textile industry recorded nationally in the period 1885-1914, twenty-two were in Yamanashi Prefecture. Textile output in Nagano Prefecture in 1891 and 1911 amounted to 214,000 kan and 861,000 kan respectively (1 kan = 8.267 lbs). By contrast, output in Yamanashi Prefecture in the same years was 65,000 kan and 173,000 kan. See Kanji Ishii, Nihon sanshigyo shi bunseki (Tokyo, 1972), pp. 198, 356-357.

*6. For example, imports reduced the number of households engaged in nailmaking in towns in western Japan-an area traditionally known for the industry-from 300 to 30-40. See Sumiya, Nihon chinrodo shi ron, pp. 38-39.

*7. A discussion of the introduction of western blast furnaces and their reception by the workers can be found in Nimura, Ashio bodo no shiteki bunseki, pp. 222-282.

*8. For the Japan Railway Company workers' strike see Masahisa Aoki, 'Nittetsu kikankata sogi no kenkyu', in: Rodo undoshi kenkyukai (ed.),Reimeiki Nihon rodoundo no saikento(Tokyo,1979).

*9. See Nimura, Ashio bodo no shiteki bunseki, for a study of the changes in the relationship between workers and owners, the role of the traditional miners' groups which had been in existence since Tokugawa times, and workers' attitudes, all seen in the context of the Ashio riot.In English, see also Paolo Calvetti, The Ashio Copper Mine Revolt (1907)- A Case Study on the Changes of the Labor Relations in Japan at the Beginning of the xxth Century (Naples, 1987). For the Besshi Copper Mine riot, see Kazuo Hoshijima et al., Niihama sangyo keizai shi (Niihama,1973).

*10. Choki keizai tokei [Estimates of Long-term Economic Statistics of Japan since 1868], edited by Kazushi Ohkawa, Miyohei Shinohara and Mataji Umemura (Tokyo, 1965-1988) [hereafter,LTES] vol.8: Bukka [Prices], edited by Kazushi Ohkawa et al.(Tokyo, 1967).The result of a long-term compilation project by many researchers, notably at the Institute of Economic Research, Hitotsubashi University, the LTES presents extremely valuable source material for research into Japanese history and economics. Not simply a compilation, it includes a detailed investigation of statistics post-1868, coordinates statistics compiled according to differing criteria, and includes estimates for those years for which statistics are lacking. All charts and tables are in both Japanese and English, and there is an English summary of the estimating procedures used.

*11. For a discussion of the role played in strikes by relatively well-paid workers, see Nimura, Ashio bodo no shiteki bunseki chs 3 and 4, esp. pp. 344-346.

*12. The following discussion of national characteristics of labour disputes in Japan and the weakness of organized labour is based on the following two studies: Kazuo Nimura, 'Kigyobetsu-kumiairon no saikento', Kenkyu Shiryo Geppo, no 305 (March 1984) and Kazuo Nimura, 'Nihon no roshikankei no tokushitsu', in: Shakaiseisakugakkai (ed.), Nihon no roshikankei no tokushitsu (Tokyo,1987). An interest in this theme similar to that of Nimura can be found in Thomas C. Smith 'The Right to Benevolence: Dignity and Japanese Workers, 1890-1920', in: Thomas C. Smith, Native Sources of Japanese Industrialization. 1750-1920 (Berkeley and Los Angeles, 1988).

*13. Thomas C. Smith, "Merit' as Ideology in the Tokugawa Period' in: Thomas C. Smith, Native Sources of Japanese Industrialization.

*14. A great deal of research has been done on the Rodokumiai Kiseikai and the Metalworkers' Union; although published nearly twenty years ago, the most useful are probably the following two studies: Makoto Ikeda, Nihon kikaiko kumiai seiritsu ski ron (Tokyo, 1970) and Tsutomu Hyodo, Nihon ni okeru roshikankei no tenkai (Tokyo, 1971). For a discussion of the special characteritics of the membership of the Metalworkers' Union, see also Akimasa Miyake, 'Kindai Nihon ni okeru tekko kumiai no koselin', Rekishigaku kenkyu, no 454 (March 1978). A discussion in English is by Kanae Iida, 'The Iron Workers' Union in the Earliest Stages of the Japanese Labour Movement: the Rise and Fall of a Craft Union', Keio Economic Studies, 1 (1973). The Metalworkers' Union referred to in the present paper and the Iron Workers' Union in Iida's study are different terms for the same union -Tekkokumiai.

*15. For the Friends of Labor, see Kazuo Nimura, 'Shokko giyukai to Kashu Nihonjin kakodomeikai', in: Rodo undo shi kenkyukai (ed.), Reimeiki Nihon rodoundo no saikento (Tokyo, 1979).

*16. For a discussion of the relationship between Fusataro Takano and Samuel Gompers see MikioSumiya, 'Takano Fusataro to rodoundo', in: Mikio Sumiya, Nihon chinrodo no shiteki kenkyu (Tokyo, 1976).

*17. Hyman Kublin, Asian Revolutionary: The Life of Sen Katayama (Princeton, 1964).

*18. For the Kyoseikai, see Masahisa Aoki, 'Nittetsu kyoseikai no kenkyu', Nihon keizaishi ronshu, no 3 (1984).

*19. For the Society of Loyal Supporters of Japanese Labour, see Nimura, Ashio bodo no shiteki bunseki, pp. 20-26, 90-98.

*20. The best study of the Yuaikai was published more than twenty years ago in Takayoshi Matsuo, Taisho demokurashii no kenkyu (Tokyo, 1966). A discussion in English is Stephen S. Large,The Yuaikai 1912-19 - The Rise of Labor in Japan (Tokyo, 1972).

*21. For example, see Mikio Sumiya, Nihon rodo undo shi (Tokyo, 1966), pp. 45-53.

*22. For a discussion of the Japanese socialist movement in the early twentieth century, see Hiroshi Okamoto, Nihon shakaishugi seito ron ski josetsu (Kyoto, 1968); for the early socialists in Japan, see Hiroaki Matsuzawa's excellent study Nihon shakaishugi no shiso (Tokyo, 1973), pp. 3-101. In English, see also John Crump, The Origins of Socialist Thought in Japan (London, Canberra and New York, 1983).

*23. The first converts to christianity in Meiji Japan, in the 1870s and 1880s, were mostly members of samurai families and from the 1890s onwards, university students, high-school students and others such as civil servants, office workers,schoolteacher, and doctors, who had all been educated to at least high-school level. Why did christianity in Japan take on such an intellectual character? One explanation can be found in language difficulties. Japanese is a language far removed from western languages, and there were very few missionaries who mastered it in such a way that they could reach the ordinary people. Those best equipped to surmount the obstacle of language and to understand christian teaching in the early Meiji period came from samurai families, who, having been taught Chinese as part of their education, were able to read the Bible in Chinese. Later, other well-educated people were able to learn. English. Howeeer, similar language problems faced the Koreans and Chinese, where christianity spread mainly among the common people who had little or no education, so obviously, language difficulties alone do not account for the situation in Japan. However, whereas ideas of Chinese cultural superiority were widespread among the intellectuals in China, western culture was held in high esteem by intellectuals in Japan, and many had a strong motivation to understand and accept the religion upon which that culture was based. The Japanese socialist movement remained a largely philosophical movement and this is not unrelated to the fact that christianity was able to spread mostly amongst intellectuals and not the masses. For an excellent discussion of these questions see Hiroaki Matsuzawa, 'Kirisutokyo to chikishijin', Iwanami koza: Nihon rekishi, vol.' 16 (Tokyo, 1976).

*24. See John F. Howes, 'Japanese Christians and American Missionaries', in: Marius B. Jansen(ed.), Changing Japanese Attitudes Toward Modernization (Princeton, 1965).

*25. A clear 'exposition of relations between the early Japanese socialist movement and international socialism, especially the Second International, is given by Masao Nishikawa, Shoki shakaishugi undo to bankoku shakaito (Tokyo, 1985).

*26. F.G. Notehelfer, Kotoku Shusui: Portrait of ajapanese Radical (Cambridge, Mass. 1971).

*27. Rodo undo shiryo iinkai (ed.), Nihon rodo undo shiryo, vol. 10 (Tokyo, 1959), pp. 146-147.

*28. A 1901 survey of 205 silk reeling factories in Nagano Prefecture shows that of the 13,620 workers, 12,519 (91.9%) were women, and that, of these, 8,284 (66%) were under twenty years of age. Kaichiro Ohishi, Nihon sangyo kakumei no kenkyu, vol. 2 (Tokyo, 1975), p. 168.

*29. Kanji Ishii, Nihon keizai shi (Tokyo, 1976), p. 169.

*30. LTES, vol. 13: Chiiki keizai tokei [Regional Economic Statistics], edited by Umemura et al. (Tokyo, 1983), pp. 306-319:

*31. LTES, vol. 12: Tetsudo to denryoku [Railroads and Electric Utilities], edited by Ryoshin Minami (Tokyo, 1965), p. 200.

*32. Ohkawa et al., vol. 13: Chiiki keizai tokei (Regional Economic Statistics], pp. 387-388.

*33. Ikeda, Nihon kikaiko kumiai seiritsu shi ron, pp. 10-11.

*34. Nimura, 'Nihon roshikankei no rekishiteki tokushitsu'.


Translated by Terry Boardman




     "Japan" in Marcel van der Linden & Jürgen Rojahn(ed.),The Formation of Labour Movements 1870-1914: An International Perspective, Vol.II (Leiden E.J.Brill, 1990).






Top Page(in Japanese)


Top page in English


navigation sign