• Japan's Meiji Industrial Revolution
  • Sites of Distorted Facts and Concealed Truth

Japan's Meiji Industrial Revolution

Sites of Distorted Facts and Concealed Truth

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2-1-1 Japan’s Beginnings of Modernization

Through the Meiji Restoration in the middle of the 19th century, Japan established a new centralized state to replace the bakuhan feudal political system ruled by the shogunate and domains headed by regional daimyōs. On the inside, it promoted modernization under the slogans of shokusan-kōgyō (encouraging new industry) and fukoku-kyōhei (enriching the country, strengthening the military), while on the outside it invaded the Ryukyu Islands, Taiwan, and the Korean Empire.

Japan's "Industrial Revolution" took place alongside the First Sino-Japanese War and the Russo-Japanese War. Japan established a gold standard system via war reparations received from China's Qing Dynasty and set up the Yahata Steel Works. While Japan emphasizes the value of its industrial heritage as that of the first successful industrial revolution in the non-Western world, Meiji Japan's industrial revolution from the 1850s to 1910 speaks of not only the bright side of this era in its successes in modernization, but also a beginnings of a dark history of aggression against Asia.

One site among Japan's industrial heritage sites that should be noted is the Shōkasonjuku Academy, located in the city of Hagi in Yamaguchi Prefecture. This academy was a private institute chaired by Yoshida Shōin, who argued for the expansion of Japan's armaments and foreign aggression. Under his ideological influence, the theory of aggression known as Seikanron, which argued for a punitive expedition to Korea, emerged within the Meiji government. As a theory advocating for the invasion of neighboring countries, Seikanron was realized through the Ganghwa Island Incident, the Sino-Japanese and Russo-Japanese Wars, and the forced occupation of the Korean Peninsula.

2-1-2 History of Forced Mobilization and Forced Labor

After the invasion of Manchuria in 1931, Japan carried out an all-out war of aggression on mainland China in 1937. Following this, it promoted a policy of imperial deification in order to make Koreans into 'subjects of the emperor', and strengthened the system used to mobilize people and supplies. A National Mobilization Law was enforced in colonial Joseon in May 1938, and the "National Draft Ordinance" was enforced in October 1939. With Japanese citizens alone not enough to engage in "all-out war", a mobilization plan was established for the Korean Peninsula as well.

This first began with mobilizing labor in areas such as mining and civil engineering, using a 'recruitment' method. Despite the name, the number of recruits was allocated by region and compelled using administrative force. From 1940 onwards, those working in the military industry were conscripted, and so-called 'on-site conscription' was implemented to prevent leaving the assigned site. Starting from February 1942, the Governor-General of Korea openly made use of local governments, police, and the like as “agencies,” to strengthen its mobilization efforts through assistance from Korean labor associations or company employment agencies. However, with many cases in which the planned number of people could not be filled, a “conscription decree” was put into force from August 1944, based on which legal obligations were indiscriminately imposed on young adults to middle-aged people to mobilize them as labor.

Mobilization was thus forced in a number of ways such as via recruitment, agencies, and conscription, and sometimes executed concurrently as well. Forced mobilization was implemented in response to the demands from Japan's national policy for wars of aggression. Businesses were directly involved in the mobilization process in the colonies, a mobilization that was accompanied by coercion, fraud, and violence, and was naturally illegally forced against the will of the individual.

The number of laborers mobilized from Korea to Japan was about 800,000. These workers were taken to various parts of Japan to work in areas such as coal mines, other mines, civil engineering sites, munitions factories, and ports, and were forced to live under violent surveillance, without freedom of action, and only given poor wages. Working under harsh and miserable conditions, they underwent serious racial discrimination. They suffered from hunger and were often unable to return to their home country even after their contracts had expired.

Among 23 component facilities of the Sites of Japan’s Meiji Industrial Revolution, seven of them are sites of forced labor. The sites where forced mobilization of labor took place are: the Imperial Steel Works Yahata Steel Works in Fukuoka Prefecture, Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Nagasaki Shipyard (No. 3 Dry Dock, Giant Cantilever Crane, Former Pattern Shop), the Takashima Coal Mine, and Hashima Coal Mine in Nagasaki Prefecture, and Miike Coal Mine in Fukuoka and Kumamoto Prefectures.

2-1-3 Forced Labor on Chinese Citizens and Allied POWs

Among the Sites of Japan’s Meiji Industrial Revolution, the Yahata Steel Works, Nagasaki Shipyard, the Takashima Coal Mine, Hashima Coal Mine, and Miike Coal Mine were the places where Chinese and Allied POWs were forcibly mobilized to work.

In order to solve the labor shortage problem that emerged from the prolongation and expansion of its wars of aggression, Japan mobilized not only Koreans but Chinese as well. Japan did not take Chinese as prisoners of war, but instead forged contracts in the form of “deliveries” or “recruitments” to take them off to the sites. Millions of Chinese were sent to Japan or Japanese-occupied Manchuria. The so-called manninkō mass burial sites, where the remains of massive numbers of workers are buried, speak to the harshness of this labor.

Those from the Allied Forces that were taken as prisoners of war by Japan in areas in Southeast Asia and the Pacific number some 350,000, of which about 150,000 were POWs from Europe and the United States. These Allied POWs were subjected to forced labor in various parts of Asia, including in the construction of the Taimen Railway. Around 36,000 European and American POWs were taken to Japan as well, where 130 forced labor prison camps, including dispatch stations, had been set up.

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