• 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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2-2-1 Yahata Steel Works

The Yahata Steel Works was the largest steel company in Japan, and was built using reparations from the First Sino-Japanese War that had turned the Korean Peninsula into a battlefield. The 200 million taels (liǎng) of reparations paid by Qing China at the time was so large that it equaled four years of the Japanese national budget. Japan devoted 80% of this to military expansion, while the remaining 20% was used for the construction of the state-owned Yahata Steel Works, railway, telegraph and telephone projects. The Yahata Steel Works shows that Japan's ‘industrial revolution’ was a modernization made successful via invasions of neighboring countries.

The workers who supported the growth of the Yahata Steel Works lived in poor conditions. As the consciousness throughout the world regarding democracy, human rights and peace began to increase, workers at Yahata also began to develop a sense of their own rights. Workers' strikes continued beginning in 1919, and trade unions were formed. However, this labor movement was suppressed by the Japanese invasion of Manchuria in 1931 and the Second Sino-Japanese War in 1937. The Japanese government created the Industrial Association for Serving the Nation (Sangyo Hokokukai) to carry out the war, with which it forced workers and capitalists to unite on a path of cooperation with the war. In the workplace, instead of slogans on the human rights and other rights of workers, the slogans chanted involved "dedicating oneself to the country through labor" of its "industrial warriors".

The Japanese government established a giant monopoly in 1934 known as Nippon Steel, under which the Yahata Steel Works was placed. In order to meet the explosive increase in the demand of steel due to the war, Nippon Steel readied itself to increase production and forcibly mobilized many Koreans there. The same mobilizations took place for Chinese and Allied POWs.

A full understanding of the Yahata Steel Works, which has now become a World Heritage Site, requires knowing of its construction via wartime reparations from the First Sino-Japanese War, the exploitation of resources from Korea and China, and the history of its workers and of forced labor. Despite this, Japan refuses to explain this history that lies behind it.

Imperial Steel Works Office (taken 2017.9)

2-2-2 Mitsubishi Nagasaki Shipyard

When Japan began to open its ports to the outside, the Edo Shogunate, under the guidance of the Netherlands, established Japan's first shipbuilding factory Nagasaki Steelworks in 1875. This was operated by the Meiji government as the state-run Nagasaki Shipbuilding Bureau, but the name was changed by Mitsubishi to the Nagasaki Shipyard in 1884 as it was commissioned to operate it, which it finally purchased in 1887. Thereafter, Mitsubishi grew into one of Japan's zaibatsu conglomerates by utilizing the wars of aggression set off by Japan to profit in the industries of marine shipping, coal, and shipbuilding.

Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Ltd., founded in 1934, became Japan's largest military supply company in charge of the production of battleships and aircraft. Among this activity, the Nagasaki Shipyard served as its base for shipbuilding. As the wars spread to China, Southeast Asia, and the Pacific, Mitsubishi seized resources from various areas in Asia and exploited the local people. Nearly 6,000 Koreans were forcibly mobilized to the Nagasaki Shipyard owned by Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, as well as Allied POWs.

The city of Nagasaki served as the Centre of weapons production from the Meiji Era up until the day the atomic bomb was dropped on the city. Even today, the Mitsubishi Nagasaki Shipyard produces military supplies such as the Aegis Warships for the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force.

Nagasaki Shipyard Dock No. 3 (taken 2018.6)

2-2-3 Mitsubishi’s Takashima and Hashima Coal Mines

The two islands of Takashima and Hashima constitute the assets of "Sites of Japan's Meiji Industrial Revolution." However, given that the period of the heritage sites is limited to 1910, only the site of the Hokkei Well Shaft in Takashima, as well as the Meiji-era vertical shaft and remains of the coastal breakwater on Hashima are part of the World Heritage Sites. Neither the entire island of Takashima nor Hashima can be considered as "Sites of Japan’s Meiji Industrial Revolution.”

The Takashima Coal Mine is an undersea coal mine that was developed via a tunnel below the sea floor. Coal was mined here from the beginning of the 18th century, while development of the Takashima Coal Mine began in 1868 with the introduction of Western coal mining technology by the Glover Trading Company which operated the mine in concert with the Saga Domain. In 1874, the now state-run Takashima Coal Mine began mobilizing prisoners to dig coal in the mine. Takashima Coal Mine was acquired by Mitsubishi in 1881, which also purchased Hashima later on in 1890.

Many workers perished in the Takashima Coal Mine. More than 1,000 workers died from industrial accidents or illness during the time from the beginning of Mitsubishi's operations until Japan's defeat in the Second World War. These deaths were due to unsanitary working conditions on top of numerous workplace accidents and assaults on the workers. Takashima Coal Mine was notorious for oppression of workers that stretched back as early as the 1880s. Despite the violent labor management, a sense of resistance arose in the workers which led to strikes in Takashima and Hashima in 1897.

Remains of the Takashima Hokkei Well Shaft under repair (taken 2019.10)

Hashima is an island also known as "Battleship Island" due to its resemblance in shape, and has tunnels throughout that enter the sea. The Saga Domain began digging the first vertical shaft in 1887, and Mitsubishi took over the management of the coal mine in 1890. Along with the expansion of the coal mine facilities, land reclamation and coastal breakwater construction were also carried out at Hashima. The coal at Hashima was also used as raw material for iron manufacturing at the Yahata Steel Works.

From 1939, about 4,000 Koreans were forcibly mobilized to the Takashima Coal Mine (Takashima and Hashima). Koreans that were forcibly mobilized to Hashima were housed in places such as a four-story building facing north. One of the survivors of the forced mobilization testified that "things there were so difficult on the island that I even thought about amputating myself to have a chance to run away.” Escape was difficult, and for those who had been taken to the island, Hashima was a prison without bars, an 'island of hell', and a work site where fear reigned. The Takashima Coal Mine (Takashima and Hashima) was also a site of forced labor on Chinese people.

2-2-4 Mitsui Miike Coal Mine

The Miike Coal Mine was Japan’s largest. When the Japanese government began operations at the Miike Coal Mine, prisoners were used for transport and digging coal. A dedicated prison was set up at the Miike Coal Mine in 1883, in which the prisoners were treated as slaves. Mitsui, which acquired and began operations at the Miike Coal Mine in 1889, continued to use prison labor until 1931. Mitsui actively cooperated with the policies of the Japanese government, expanding the scale of the areas it managed through wars such as the First Sino-Japanese War, the Russo-Japanese War, World War I, and the wars of aggression from the 1930s. The main pits at the mine included the Manda Pit, Miyaura Pit, Yotsuama Pit, and Mikawa Pit.

The Manda Coal Pit at the Miike Coal Mine (taken 2017.9)

The number of ordinary workers began to increase at the Miike Coal Mine starting in the 20th century. The sense of rights among the workers also increased after World War I. During the rice riots in 1918, workers at the Miike Coal Mine went on strike as they demanded an increase in wages. As the strike spread across the site beyond the Manda Pit, troops were dispatched to suppress it. In 1924, 6,800 of the 19,800 workers at Miike including at sites including the Miike Mill, Miike Dyes, Yotsuyama Pit, Manda Pit, and the Miyanoura Pit, took part in the strike. Once the strike was suppressed, Mitsui reinforced its control over the workers.

Coal mines were workplaces with a labor intensity as high as the mortality rates that accompanied it. About 40% of the Koreans who were taken to mainland Japan between 1939 and 1945 were sent to coal mines to work, and more than 9,000 Koreans were forcibly mobilized to the Miike Coal Mine. The Miike Coal Mine is well known as a site of mobilization for numerous Koreans, Chinese, and Allied POWs.

Koreans were also mobilized to Miike Dyes, a Miike company, the Omuta Plant for the electrochemical industry, and Omuta Industries for Toyo High Pressure Industries. Allied POWs were also mobilized to the Omuta Plant for the electrochemical industry.

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