Li Fu-jen

Japan Faces the Abyss II

Conditions in Large-Scale Industry and Agriculture

(March 1944)

From Fourth International, Vol.5 No.3, March 1944, pp.78-88.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the second in the series of articles analyzing Japan’s social and economic life. The first article, The Distinguishing Features of Japan’s Economic Life appeared in the February issue of Fourth International. The author of this thorough study spent many years in the Far East and visited Japan several times, the last occasion being in 1940. The third article in this important series will appear in the April issue of Fourth International.

We have seen how small industry and handicraft production outweigh modern, large-scale industry as regards employment, and how disproportionate is the amount of capital invested in merchandising as compared with industry. Now we come to a consideration of the character of Japan’s modern, large-scale industry and the place heavy industry occupies therein.

Cotton textiles represent Japan’s leading industry both in volume of production and labor force employed – or they did at any rate up to the time of Pearl Harbor. Japan achieved supremacy in the world’s textile markets about ten years ago, ousting Britain from a position which that country had held for a century and a half. Second to cotton textiles comes rayon, of which Japan became the world’s second producer. In the latter industry, almost the entire production comes from large factories. Not so in the case of cotton textiles. In cotton spinning there is a high degree of capital concentration and centralization. The whole production comes from modern factories owned by a few big firms united in an effective cartel: The Japan Cotton Spinners’ Association. In weaving, however, the very small factory of 10 looms or less still predominates. There are also many medium-sized factories individually owned. Only about half of the woven cotton products – including even those for export – are made by the big companies which combine spinning and weaving operations. Their cartel controls only 45 per cent of the wide power looms (used for making export fabrics) and only 28 per cent if all power looms are included. Cloth for kimonos, the traditional Japanese costume still widely in use, is woven only 12 to 14 inches wide on very narrow looms.

According to figures of the Japanese Department of Commerce and Industry in 1928, some 93 per cent of the cotton weaving factories actually had less than 10 looms, nor has this situation changed appreciably since. If one takes silk and cotton weaving together, an even more amazing situation is revealed, for half the operatives are employed in establishments having fewer than five workers, i.e., non-factory industry. These figures all refer to power looms. There are in addition still a considerable number of handlooms, not only in silk but also in cotton weaving.

This, then, is the position of Japan’s foremost industry. This industry is really an abnormal growth which has created a lack of balance in the national economy, causing it to be both lopsided and top-heavy. It developed to huge proportions while other industries remained atrophied. The rapid growth of textiles and, later, the emergence of industries producing a mass of consumption goods such as rubber tires and shoes, electric bulbs, cutlery, hardware, soap, bicycles, pencils, fountain pens and clocks, has never been balanced by any corresponding growth of heavy industry. Moreover, such heavy industry as exists is almost wholly designed for the production of armaments (including shipbuilding) and has survived only with the aid of subsidies, exemption from taxation and high tariff protection. The manufacture of machinery and machine-tools, particularly primary machines for the making of machinery, is very poorly developed. How disproportionate is the industrial structure can best be seen from a few comparative figures.

Japan’s Light Industry

Bearing in mind all the time that only 18 per cent of the occupied population is supported by industry, and that the total number of factory workers is only 7 per cent of the occupied population, we shall see from the following table, compiled from figures of Japan’s Department of Commerce and Industry, what proportion of this 7 per cent are engaged in heavy industry:

Percentage of Total Factory Workers Employed
in Various Branches of Industry in 1933



Metal industry


Manufacture of machines, tools, implements, etc.








Timber & wood manufactures


Printing & bookbinding


Gas and electricity




The preponderance of light industry is all too obvious from these ten-year-old figures. There may have been some change in the proportions since then, but at least until the end of 1940 there was no evidence of a tendency toward any substantial, much less decisive, change such as could have altered the structure of Japanese economy. Textiles, as we see, employ nearly half of the country’s factory workers as compared with less than one-fifth in metallurgy and engineering. If the textile and food industries are taken together, they account for 55 per cent as against only 28 per cent for metallurgy, engineering and chemicals combined. Yet the latter three, in a highly industrialized country, would greatly outweigh the former. In England before the present war, there were 2.7 million persons employed in the heavy industry trio as against 1.3 millions in textiles. In the United States the preponderance of heavy industry is even greater.

Japan’s heavy industry consists mainly of plants for armament production and shipbuilding. Take these away and there is little left, except the industries producing electrical goods, locomotives and rolling stock. In the manufacture of metal-working machines, Japan was unable, as late as 1938, to supply even 50 per cent of her requirements. The production of machine-tools, requiring both skill and a quality of steel hardly made in Japan and having to be imported, had progressed very little. The total number of workers engaged in building engines barely rose above 10,000 even in pre-Pearl Harbor days, although engine construction is one of the most important branches of machine-building in Japan.

Engineering Plants

It is true, of course, that light industry, textiles in particular, employs a proportionately larger number of workers than metallurgy or engineering and this is further accentuated in Japan by the existence of so many small factories with little machinery. This fact, however, does not banish the discrepancy in the importance of light and heavy industry in Japan. For if we examine figures of the total annual value of the output of Japan’s various industries, we find textiles and other light industries swamping the rest – this despite the additional fact that the prices of Japanese iron and steel and machinery are abnormally high monopoly prices.

In a land where Lilliputian-scale industry occupies so large a place in the national economy, it is natural that it should play a role even in engineering. This fact constitutes a particularly grave weakness, inasmuch as Japan’s small workshops possess no high precision tools or machinery, which are too costly for their very meager capital resources. This defect was the subject of comment by Lt.-Gen. Katsura Hayashi, one of Japan’s top-flight militarists, who, in cooperation with the Chief of Supplies of the War Industry, wrote a pamphlet entitled How Will Our Industries Operate in the Event of War? The Tokyo militarists were long aware of, and perturbed by, the serious weakness in Japan’s military position as represented by her puny and partly archaic heavy industry, but were totally incapable of finding a remedy, since fundamental social and economic problems are involved.

Organizationally the small engineering workshops have been linked up with the big enterprises which farm out to them part of their contracts for machine construction. Parts are fabricated in the small plants and completed or assembled in the big factory. The newer branches of engineering – aircraft and automobiles – which have grown up out of the shipbuilding industry and the ordnance and tank departments of the arsenals, are obliged to have a considerable number of their parts manufactured in small enterprises. This system, whilst calculated to utilize to the utmost the whole productive capacity of the country, is a dangerous and wasteful one when it comes to machines or armaments in which standardization and exactitude according to specification are of primary importance, and which cannot be obtained without precision instruments and machinery, almost totally lacking in the smallest factories of Japan.

Back in 1933 a Japanese newspaper, the Nichiro Tausen, revealed that a firm which obtains an army or navy contract for airplanes actually has to secure the cooperation of about 450 small “factories.” Nor is this all, for each of these tiny enterprises in turn subdivides its work among a few other workshops or even households. In fact, the organization of this essential war industry resembles that of bicycle manufacture. Production of bicycles, of which a huge number is used in Japan because of the lack of good roads and mechanical road transport, is regarded mainly as artisan’s work suitable for home and small workshop industry. There are, or were, some 770 bicycle “factories,” of which 367 employed fewer than five workers. These numerous small establishments make bicycle parts and only the assembly takes place in fairly large plants. The 770 factories occupied the role of domestic production in certain other industries as well, being directed and financed by the big enterprises which give out the material and collect the finished parts. This is the system which, at least until fairly recently, was used in Japan’s airplane industry, and there can be little doubt that it has accounted in large part for the comparative inefficiency of the Japanese air force and for the low level of civilian flying in Japan, because planes made under such conditions can scarcely be very reliable.

Capital Goods Production

In the production of capital goods, Japan is far behind both her imperialist allies and rivals. Even in shipping, her foremost branch of heavy industry, the prewar tonnage launched was only 11 per cent of Britain’s, and the British shipbuilding industry was working at the time far below its capacity. In machinery production as a whole, Japan appears as a veritable pigmy compared with either England or the United States.

In 1929, with the yen at par, the Japanese machinery and engineering industry produced goods to a gross value of £68,000,000. The corresponding figure for England was £472,000,000. True, Japan greatly increased her production after the invasion of Manchuria in response to military demands. In this she was assisted by the depreciation of the yen, the boom in her export industries, and the newly begun exploitation of Manchuria. Nevertheless, the figure reached in 1934 was only one billion yen, which, although it represented a 47 per cent increase on 1929 in yen values, was largely a reflection of inflated prices. That there was some real increase (and that there has been more since) is not to be doubted, but Japan was then still far from approaching independence in machinery production, since imports also rose. Japan was obliged to export machinery to Manchuria and, being unable to make good the deficiency by correspondingly increasing her own production, was obliged to increase her imports. If we add to machinery imports Japan’s large iron and steel imports – which amounted to 145,000,000 yen in 1934 – it is clear that she had no surplus of capital goods to develop her newly conquered territory. Indeed, far from being able to export capital goods, she was obliged to import them both for herself and her colonies.

The undeveloped state of heavy machinery production (engineering equipment and equipment for the armament industries, steam turbines and mining machinery) was felt by the Japanese ruling class as one of its greatest weaknesses, since it is precisely such enterprises which are needed for the rapid transition to production of war materials on a large scale. The largest items on Japan’s import list before the present war were internal combustion engines, metal working machinery, parts of automobiles and firearms. Japan does not even make enough sewing machines to meet her requirements and has had to import a large part of her spinning machinery, although she produces her own looms. The largest of the spinning and weaving machinery makers in Japan could only turn out about 60,000 spindles a year.

Automobiles and trucks in large numbers are one of the attributes of a well rounded economy. Before the present war, both Ford and General Motors had large assembly plants in Japan and the great majority of the cars and trucks sold were their products. Native automobile production was practically nonexistent prior to 1933. When it did belatedly appear on the scene, it was only in response to War Office orders – and subsidies. But there were only a few firms and since they could not supply anything but a small quantity – and that of poor quality – the bulk of the army orders had still to be handed over to Ford and General Motors. In 1933, a total of 17,790 cars was sold in Japan, of which only 10 per cent were made in the country. The bulk of the remainder came from the foreign assembly plants. And this despite the fact that since 1928 subsidies had been given for the manufacture of automobiles, and even to the owners of cars fit for military use, and in spite of a 42 per cent duty on imported cars, a 35 per cent duty on imported engines, and an even higher duty on completed care.

There was in 1936 only one car per 800 persons in Japan, as compared with one per 22.4 persons in England and 4.79 in the United States. Moreover, horse-drawn transportation is almost nonexistent and the loads which are not carried by automobile or railway – or by handcart, wheelbarrow or other primitive vehicles – are carried by human beings. The absence of a sizable automobile traffic goes hand in hand with poor roads or an absence of roads, which in turn reflects the general economic backwardness of the country and the poverty of the mass of its citizenry.

Raw Material Deficiencies

Japanese big business, alive to its own interests – which lie in profit making – resisted government wheedling to induce investment in automobile manufacture. The hard-headed Mitsui and Mitsubishi realized that a profitable automobile industry must be a mass production industry. Mass production presupposes mass consumption, perhaps even an export market. And there must be a network of suitable roads. But how many in poverty-stricken Japan could ever hope to possess an automobile? Who among the myriads of small producers, unable even to afford to install power machinery in their factories, could think of buying a truck with which to deliver their products? And where are the roads to come from if more than 80 per cent of the budget goes to the military and there are not even sufficient funds for education or any kind of social services? In the miserable backwardness of the Japanese automobile industry and of mechanical road transport, we can discern the immediate causes of the country’s general economic backwardness. Large-scale capitalist industry on modern lines cannot develop in all branches of production because of the extreme narrowness of the internal market, which grows narrower from year to year; and because of lack of capital. It has remained confined to the production of those consumers goods which can be exported and which require comparatively little capital to initiate.

The weaknesses in Japan’s industrial economy which we have discussed above do not by any means exhaust the question. Added to and in part underlying the country’s productive weaknesses are tremendous deficiencies of industrial raw materials. No other capitalist power except Italy is so poor as Japan in the primary sources of wealth: agriculture (including livestock and timber) and mining. She has little iron, coal or oil, and no nickel or many of the other alloys used in steel manufacture. In the sphere of non-ferrous metals, indispensable for a modern war industry, Japan is as deficient as in coal and iron. She has fair supplies only of copper, and even in this she was never completely self-sufficient, having to import about 20 per cent of her requirements. Her production of lead, zinc, tin, manganese and tungsten ranges from 10 to 50 per cent of her needs. With regard to nickel, antimony and bauxite (the latter being the raw material for aluminum) she is entirely dependent upon imports.

In her main industry – cotton textiles – she is totally lacking in raw material, all her cotton having to be imported. She imported most of the wood pulp from which rayon is produced, the bulk of this raw material coming from Canada and Scandinavia. Nearly all the wool for her woolen industry came from Australia. Of the 1,000,000 tons of salt used annually for industrial purposes, Japan has been importing 65 per cent. Nearly all her wheat came from Australia.

Japan has practically no home supplies of oil. Her oil refining industry, working on imported crude, had reached a point of development five years ago where it was able to supply 36 per cent of the whole consumption of petroleum products for fuel. But she was producing only 20 per cent of her requirements of lubricating oil, the most important derivative of petroleum for industrial purposes. To some extent, Japan has made up for her lack of coal and oil by the use of hydro-electric power. But it was evident several years ago that this development of water-power resources had about reached its limits and was beginning to endanger the adequate irrigation of the rice fields. Although Japan is well advanced in the matter of hydroelectric power, this does not compensate for lack of coal and oil. Ships cannot be run on such power, nor automobiles nor planes.

Iron and Steel

The combined iron ore production of Japan, Manchuria and Korea amounts to only 14 per cent of Britain’s production, which in turn is far below that of the United States. Japan’s home deposits are scattered in various parts of the country in small quantities and cost of transportation to centers of production adds substantially to pig iron cost. Manchurian ores are mostly low grade, with an extraction content of only 35 per cent – so low grade, in fact, that millions of tons of similar ore in the Lake Superior region of the United States are not even counted in reserves because the preliminary extraction process would be too costly. Extraction of the Manchurian ores has been made possible only by government subvention. Japan’s poverty in iron ore is further illustrated by the fact that in 1934 her consumption amounted to only 3.1 million tons as compared to the 1929 figures of 17.3 for Britain and 21.3 each for Belgium and Luxembourg. Pig-iron production in Japan five years ago amounted to only 3.8 per cent of the world’s total, or 5 per cent if the Japanese Empire is taken to include Manchuria. This compares with 22.2 per cent for the USA and 15.5 per cent for the Soviet Union (1932 figures) at a time when American production had fallen way down due to the economic crisis. The extreme smallness of Japan’s pig iron production is further shown in the fact that her per capita consumption was only 30 lbs. as compared with 700 lbs. in the USA.

By 1937, Japan claimed to have achieved 89 per cent self-sufficiency in steel, having doubled her output since 1929. Yet in 1934 her total steel output represented only 4.2 per cent of the world total. In 1935, she produced 4.46 million long tons, which was less than half of Britain’s 9.84 million long tons in the same year. How far Japan is behind the USA is illustrated by the fact that in the peak prewar year of 1929 American steel output reached 56.43 million long tons. And Japan, to achieve even a small fraction of that figure, was obliged to import large quantities of both pig iron and scrap.

In coal it is essentially the same story, although here Japan compares much better than in iron with other leading countries. Six years ago, Japan Proper produced annually at the rate of 36 million metric tons of coal, compared with Britain’s 262, Germany’s 163, France’s 53, Poland’s 46, USA’s 552. Manchuria produced 9 million tons of which something less than half was exported. Japan has claimed a 91 per cent self-sufficiency in coal (which simply means that consumption has been trimmed to the small production) but is extremely poor in coking coal for iron and steel production. Her total per capita consumption is very low and the cost of her coal very high. Practically all the country’s coal is used for industrial purposes, since heating of homes by coal fires or stoves or central heating is practically unknown. Whereas England, with a population of 44 millions, consumes about 40 million tons of coal yearly for domestic heating and cooking, Japan with a population of 70 millions consumes only 5½ million tons for non-industrial purposes.

High Productive Costs

High costs of production are another item in the catalogue of Japan’s economic weaknesses. The cost of raw material per ton of pig iron produced in Japan amounts to the equivalent of $18.00 as compared with $11.00 in Manchuria, $14.50 in the USA; $14.00 in Belgium; $11.70 in Britain; $13.70 in Germany; $12.40 in France (pre-war figures). Low productivity, which pervades nearly all the branches of Japanese economy, is an important element in cost. As an example may be cited the fact that in Japan, despite the longer working day, coal production per shift is only 69 per cent of England’s. In 1929, the yearly output per person employed in bituminous coal mining in the USA was 949.7 tons as compared with Japan’s 106 in that year and 203 in 1933.

Although an iron and steel industry can be built up on imported ores provided good coking coal is available, when a country has neither one nor the other the cost of production becomes prohibitive and production can be carried on only with the aid of government subvention, which is the case in Japan. The high cost of coal, more than the lack of iron ore, is the immediate cause of the backwardness of Japan’s iron and steel industry and the poor development of her engineering. It is also one of the immediate causes of the general retardedness of Japan’s industrialization as a whole, since it makes the use of power very expensive. But lack of iron ore is nevertheless a factor. Japan is obliged to import iron ore, but to keep the home producers in business and assured of a profit, the government is also obliged to impose a quite heavy duty on imported pig iron (1.66 yen per ton) in addition to exempting the home producers from taxation. This all adds to cost and excessively costly pig iron makes for excessively costly machinery beyond the means of the small factory owner. Handicraft production is consequently kept alive.

High costs of production, due to the wasteful and inefficient use of labor and the high initial cost of raw material, always made it difficult for Japan to compete on the world market. Yet she was obliged to compete if her industries were to secure the imported raw materials upon which they depend. A solution of sorts was found to this problem in the time-honored capitalist practice of driving down the living standards of the masses. The peasants were so squeezed by taxation and the exactions of their landlord-capitalist tormentors that they succumbed to official blandishments which induced them to take up sericulture as a side-line. This side-line, a great added work burden on the peasant households (feeding silkworms is extremely laborious), furnished a large silk crop which was exported to America in exchange for raw cotton to feed Japan’s textile mills. And then the textile workers were driven and sweated at pitifully low wages so that Japan might flood the markets of the East with low priced cotton goods, thus providing her with an export balance with which to import oil, scrap iron, pig iron, machinery and other basic needs. So it was, also, with woolens, artificial silk, electric bulbs, rubber footwear, soap, beer, buttons and jewelry, glassware and pottery, and cheap bicycles which found a similar outlet. One writer has described this Japanese export trade as a “hunger trade,” a desperate effort to make ends meet and keep afloat the almost bankrupt national economy. Japan exported at “bargain sale” prices the products of the toil of her fearfully exploited workers. It was done at the cost of currency inflation, reduced wages, a shrunken home market and acute agrarian distress. In 1934, for example, while her own people could scarcely find the wherewithal to purchase the cheapest cotton garments, Japan exported 2,577 million square yards of cotton cloth against Britain’s 1,993 million square yards. But Japan received only £28.7 millions for her goods, while Britain, for the considerably smaller quantity, received £39.8 millions. The difference was directly reflected in the tightened domestic economy of the bulk of the Japanese people.

Conditions in Agriculture

The agrarian setting of the atomized, lopsided and top-heavy Japanese industrial structure completes the picture of an economically backward country. This setting represents the most important factor explaining the immediate causes of her generally disproportionate development, her grave structural economic weakness – and, last but by no means least, her imperialist policies. In the case of industry, as we have seen, pre-capitalist survivals, though tremendous in their scope, are but the background to a modern, fairly large-scale industry. But in agriculture, feudal survivals are in the foreground of the picture. Such is their specific weight that they operate to prevent any modernization of farming and render impossible the further industrial development of the country, since they are a barrier to the accumulation of capital and at the same time keep the home market within a strait jacket.

Japan’s unsolved agrarian problem poisons her national life as would a canker and drives her ruling class to hazardous military adventures in a vain effort to escape the nemesis which awaits them at home. The terrible position of Japan’s peasantry is at one and the same time the source of Japan’s marvelous textile industries – which owe their success above all to an abundance of cheap female labor from the villages – and of the stunted growth of her heavy industry and the survival on a great scale of handicraft production. The agrarian problem is at the root of both the fearfully low wages paid in industry and the high cost of food. It explains why Japan is at the bottom of the scale as regards the amount of non-human power expended in production and it accounts for the low total value of her national wealth and income.

It would be difficult to imagine a greater anachronism: Here is a leading capitalist power, with a mighty army and navy and a not inconsiderable air force, aspiring to dominate at least all of eastern Asia, whose peasants live and till the soil in practically the same way and with the same primitive implements as their ancestors centuries ago, and who are exploited and oppressed by a host of landowners and usurers to the same or even greater extent and in much the same manner as before the “revolution” of 1868 which was supposed to have freed them. For the most part, Japan’s peasants still have to surrender half or more of the harvests from their tiny farms as rent in kind to a landowner. They are still for the most part unable to eat the rice they bring forth from the land by hard, distasteful and unremitting toil, but even in the best of times must subsist on barley, millet, sweet potatoes and some imported rice of inferior quality. They are forced to sell their daughters into what is practically slavery in the brothels of the towns, or to indenture them as laborers in factories, and otherwise to supplement their insufficient incomes from agriculture by silk cultivation or some other domestic industry in which their women and children work unlimited hours undisturbed by any factory legislation.

Feudal Vestiges

Due to the mountainous nature of the country, only 18.9 per cent of Japan’s total area is arable land, and only 15.5 per cent is actually cultivated. On her 5.9 million hectares [1] of cultivated land live 5.6 million peasant households. This is a little less than half of the total number of households in Japan and somewhat more than half of the total population of the country, since the average size of the farm family is larger than that of the urban family. Although the percentage of households engaged in agriculture has gradually diminished from year to year, the absolute rural population figure has consistently risen at the rate of tens of thousands each year, so that the land is required to support an ever greater number of human beings. This means that industrial development has not at any period kept pace with the increase in population and pressure upon the land has accordingly grown. The greater part of the cultivable land in Japan’s main islands is already intensively cultivated, but there are considerable areas which could be brought into cultivation if capital were available. But as in all else pertaining to Japanese agriculture, capital never is available.

The total of 5,642,509 families (1930 figures) cultivating the land is divided as follows:




Part Tenants and
Part Proprietors





Percentage of total




Considering the amount of cultivated land, it can readily be seen that most of the Japanese peasants must cultivate farms so small that in America and most parts of Europe they would be regarded as nothing more than gardens. The total cultivated area would, if divided equally, give less than 2½ acres per family. Unequally divided as it is, 34.5 per cent work an area of 11/5 acres, another 34.3 per cent an area between 11/5 and 2½ acres, and 22 per cent an area of just under 5 acres. Only 1.4 per cent have more than 12½ acres. This means that 69 per cent work plots of 2½ acres or less. If we exclude tenants and consider only land owned, the proportion of tiny holdings is even higher, namely, 49.7 per cent with less than 11/5 acres and another 25 per cent with between 1½ and 2½ acres.

Small as these plots are, they could support their cultivators more or less adequately if only the cultivators could retain possession of the crops they produce, or if they could market them for their own profit. This would require them to be free of the great burdens of rent, taxation and usurious interest and to be able to buy fertilizers at less than the prevailing monopoly prices. As the foregoing table indicates, close to 70 per cent of the farm households are tenants for all or part of the land they cultivate, and they pay 50 to 60 per cent of their harvests to the landlords. Of the remainder of their harvests, about half goes for the purchase of fertilizers. In the case of the “pure” peasant proprietors, some 30 per cent of the total peasant households, taxation, monopoly prices for fertilizers and other industrial goods, and the necessity of borrowing at usurious rates in poor crop years, long ago reduced them to such a state of indebtedness that their condition is little better than that of the tenants.

Landlord Parasitism

What is the extent of “pure” landlord parasitism in Japan? Official Japanese statistics obscure the distinction between landowner and peasant proprietor, but it is possible nevertheless to calculate the number of landowners who rent out their land. In 1932 there were 975,838 landowners. The peculiar nature of Japanese farming leads the richer peasants who own more land than they themselves can cultivate to rent it out to a tenant or several tenants, rather than to cultivate it with hired labor. And it leads landowners who do not farm at all to rent out their lands to a multitude of tenants instead of to one or two large farmers as in Western Europe. With some rare exceptions, no Japanese landowners have undertaken large-scale farming with machinery, or even with animals harnessed to plows. The landowner has a surer and easier profit by renting out his land in small parcels and receiving half or more of the produce as rent. He invests no capital and runs no risks. Such landlords are wholly parasitical and there are nearly a million of them in Japan.

If at the Meiji Restoration of 1868 the peasants had really been freed from their feudal burdens and left to develop as free peasant proprietors; even had fixed cash rents been substituted for rents in kind, the consequent rise in prices would gradually have eliminated the old type of purely parasitic landowner and the peasants would have had more chance of controlling the rice market. At the same time, there would have been a gradual differentiation of wealth among the peasantry, some becoming richer and others losing their lands altogether and becoming laborers. Capital would have been accumulated in the hands of the more successful peasants, and large-scale, modern methods of cultivation would in time have been introduced. Japan today would not be a country where the real costs of production in agriculture are excessively high, and the output per man, as distinct from the output per acre, excessively low. Continuation of rent payments in kind, combined with heavy taxation by the state for an artificial fostering of urban industry and for armaments, has prevented a capitalist organization of agriculture and the introduction of modern technique. The possibility of capital accumulation in the hands of the peasantry, and so of the ownership of the land passing into the hands of richer farmers – which means out of the hands of both parasitic landowners and the poorer peasantry – has been precluded by feudal survivals.

How is one to reconcile the present-day position of the peasantry with their supposed liberation in the Restoration of 1868, which Trotsky described as a “bureaucratic attempt to buy off a revolution”? The new national state which emerged from the Meiji Restoration bought out the feudal aristocracy by giving them state bonds in exchange for their rice revenues, but the peasants had already been subjected to a new and growing class of exacting masters which had grown up during the last period of feudalism, namely, the merchant-usurers, forerunners of the class of big capitalists.

Under the Tokugawa shogunate, last of the feudal regimes, the peasants did not usually give up half their harvest directly to the Samurai (warrior retainers of the nobility), but paid it as a tax to the Daimyo (corresponding to a count or baron in Europe), who in turn paid yearly stipends to the Samurai from the proceeds. Both the peasants, and the Samurai and the Daimyo, were in debt to the merchant class. Many of the peasants had mortgaged their lands to the merchants precisely in order to pay their taxes to the Samurai and Daimyo – who similarly were indebted to the merchants. Although under feudal law a peasant could not alienate his land, evasion of the law became so prevalent under the pressure of dire necessity that there occurred what amounted to actual sale, and by the early 19th century the merchant-usurers already owned a considerable amount of land in fact if not in juridical theory. The Restoration government recognized the fact of this alienation and many formerly secret tenures were subsequently proclaimed and possession recognized. Thus, when the peasants in 1871 were liberated from the payment of exactions to their feudal lords and made to pay a cash tax to the state instead, most of them, or a very large part of them, were already being exploited by new landlords or by usurers. Those who in actual fact became free, because they had not previously mortgaged their lands, were soon compelled to do so by the need for money with which to pay the new taxes. The exaction of heavy taxes in cash in a country of undeveloped transport and poor markets naturally very soon delivered these peasants into the clutches of trading-usurer capital and either converted them into tenants or burdened them with such high interest payments (20 per cent was common) that they became actually landless.

In a word, productive relationships in the land did not really change. New forms of exploitation were substituted for the old. There was no revolution, but merely a “bureaucratic attempt to buy off a revolution” which left the peasants as badly off as they were before. The old class of rural exploiters, the feudal nobility and their retainers, merged with the newer class of merchant-usurers, forerunners of big capital. Here we see that peculiar process by which two distinct eras and two distinct social classes became merged in a new era and in a new dominant class, the bourgeoisie, which in the Japan of today has implanted a system of capitalist relations while perpetuating all forms of feudal backwardness which could find any place at all in the national scheme of things.

The capitalist mode of production has never penetrated into Japan’s agriculture. The number of big farm estates is small and even where ownership of land is concentrated, the land is almost always left subdivided into small lots among tenants. The big estates are found mainly in the Hokkaido, northernmost island of Japan, which was colonized after the Restoration and where there is some fairly large-scale modern farming carried on with hired labor and animal power. But even in the cold Hokkaido, where the type of agriculture called for is along American lines with large fields, machinery and some cattle and dairy farming, the failure to invest capital in agriculture and the transference of the old parasitic type of landholding from the main islands to this virgin soil, have prevented full utilization of the land and large stretches still lie waste.

The parasitic extraction of rent in kind, instead of capital investment in agrarian development, is at the root of Japan’s agrarian problem. To understand why this form of parasitism has survived and why, too, land continues to be cultivated in tiny plots by a multitude of households, it is necessary, apart from historical factors, to consider the nature of farming on irrigated land. The yield from such land, as compared to non-irrigated tracts which are subject to all the vagaries of weather, is fairly constant. There are good years and bad years, but the land always yields something and the fluctuations are not great. Accordingly, the landowner who receives rent in kind has an assured income, since the amount he receives per acre is fixed. Nor is it the case that the produce of the fields is divided between landlord and tenant in unvarying proportion. The landlord receives a fixed number of bushels per acre irrespective of the yield and the tenant suffers all the losses in a year of bad harvest. Moreover, since the terms of the tenant’s lease can be varied at the landlord’s will, he benefits without risk from every ounce of sweat and from every extra measure of fertilizer which the tenant puts into the soil. Furthermore, the Japanese landowner of today is also quite frequently a petty industrialist, a corporation shareholder or a money-lender, or a trader and speculator at the same time, so that the profit he makes from squeezing the peasants is in reality greater than the rents he receives. He may own a small silk-reeling establishment or weaving shed, or a sake brewing factory, or a rice mill. He may be the only buyer, or one of two or three buyers of produce in the village, and since the peasants are nearly all in debt to him, he often gets a grip, at a very low price, on that part of the peasants’ crop not delivered to him as rent. He can then hold it to the end of the year when the government artificially raises prices by buying up crops. This, ironically enough, is done under the benevolent title of “relief to the farmers,” but is always timed sufficiently long after the harvest for the actual cultivators to have already delivered it up, at the lower price, to landlord or usurer or trader in payment of interest on debts.

Technical backwardness goes hand in hand with this archaic system of economic relationships. Machinery could be applied to rice cultivation. Yet the peasants are to be seen breaking the sod with hoes or spades instead of plows, irrigating their fields with a treadwheel pump, winnowing the rice by hand. The failure to apply machinery, which means also the failure to establish large plantations, is a consequence of historical as well as purely economic circumstances, insofar as it is explained by the political power wielded since the Restoration by the landowners, and by the desire of the ruling class generally to preserve the peasantry as a great reservoir of manpower for war. At the same time, the diversion of so much of a relatively small national income for war purposes, ever since Japan’s foundations as a modern state, has, by hindering industrialization, kept the peasants on the land; whilst the possibility of continually rendering the land more productive by sweating the peasants more removes any incentive to expropriate them and introduce capitalist farming methods.

Backward methods of cultivation, like backward industrial methods, mean high real costs of production, especially when this backwardness is combined with a high degree of parasitism. Secondly, the very large number of landlords means that a large part of the rice produced and delivered as rent is consumed by the landlords and not brought to market at all. This fact explains to a considerable extent the greater cheapness of rice grown in other countries with a similarly low level of technique and a much lower production per acre. Hence arises the paradox that Japan’s imperialists, who have repeatedly complained that their country is overpopulated and cannot feed the people, impose a duty on foreign rice and have even dumped rice on markets abroad at one-third the Japanese market price.

The backwardness of Japan’s farming is well-illustrated by the following statistical facts: There is only one motor for every 60 peasant families and the majority of these do not exceed five horsepower and are employed mainly in the manufacture of food products or in driving the water pumps owned by well-to-do peasants. There is only one rice-polishing machine for every 60 farmers and only one rice or barley hulling machine for every 120 farms. Of threshing machines and pumps there is but one each per hundred farms. For the majority of peasants, the use of chemical fertilizers is the only benefit they have derived from modern science, and since the advantage from the increased yield goes to the landowner, and the money to buy fertilizers has to come from some subsidiary work (sericulture or home industry), the labor of the peasantry has not been lightened nor their material condition improved. As a matter of fact, the very increase in the productivity of the land since feudal times has been due as much or more to the greater number of people working on it as to the use of chemical fertilizers. The high productivity per acre tends to hide the low productivity per man.

Lack of Capital

There is an erroneous impression that the Japanese are the world’s masters in the matter of rice production, that the quantity they can produce from an acre of land is higher than anywhere else in the world, and that they have reached the limits of intensive scientific cultivation. Actually this is far from being the case. Although compared with the rest of Asia the Japanese yield per acre is very high, it has been surpassed in Spain and Italy. Japan’s production is 31.0 quintals per acre as compared with Spain’s 58.2 and Italy’s 45.5 (pre-war figures). Moreover, there has for a number of years been a tendency in Japan for the yield of the land to decline rather than increase. Main factors in the decline are the decreasing sums which the peasant is able to spend for fertilizers, general neglect of irrigation and drainage works, and hydro-electric development which has made inroads into water supplies used in farming.

The decline of agriculture, which must support more than half of Japan’s population, renders a fundamental change imperative. There is no doubt that all the level valley lands – which form the largest part of the country’s rice fields – could be cultivated by tractors, or at least with, horse-drawn plows, if they were nationally owned or even under the ownership of large landowners ready and able to invest the necessary capital. Such changes would enormously increase the yield per man and set free a large part of the population for other work. But the reactionary rulers of Japan, with a pretended concern for the welfare of the millions which does not square with their policies and deeds, declare that the mechanization of agriculture would deprive millions of their livelihood, that Japan is too overpopulated for any such change to be made, etc. This at once raises the question of Japan’s stunted industrial development, for which these rulers are as responsible as they are for the miserable condition of agriculture.

Apart from this question, however, it should be noted that a large part of Japan’s waste and forest lands could be utilized if capital were available for their development. Only 6,000,000 hectares of the 7,500,000 considered as arable are actually cultivated. And even as regards land already under cultivation, one-fifth is insufficiently irrigated and another fifth too swampy. This has been admitted by the Japanese Department of Agriculture, but they failed repeatedly to get the necessary budget allocations for the large expenditures necessary on irrigation and drainage works. As a matter of fact, the government, with the greater part of the revenues earmarked for the armed services and for debt services, will not or cannot provide even the smaller sums needed for vital repairs and other work to prevent disastrous floods and droughts which have been occurring in various parts of the country with increasing frequency.

Concentration in Japan upon intensive exploitation of fertile valleys is clearly not accidental. The development of cattle farming for instance, would involve capital expenditure, experimentation and risk. Why should any holder of capital undertake such expenditures and risk so long as the peasantry and the irrigated land can be squeezed more and more? And how can capital be accumulated by the peasants themselves for experimentation and investment in new ways of farming, so long as their small surplus is all drained away by landowners and usurers and the government, for investment in trade and industry and for armaments? The most desirable parts of the Hokkaido, which could easily support double its present population, have been allocated to big capitalists who rent out to tenants and are themselves usually absentees. They devote no capital to the development of their estates, but merely receive their rents like the smaller landowners of the rice fields in the main and southern islands. Some of them merely strip their lands of timber, leaving it bare and uncultivated. Thus the old feudal forms of exploitation have been transferred to this new territory which is so eminently suitable for large-scale farming and stockbreeding. The government continually turned down development schemes for roads, railroad lines and credits in the Hokkaido, in spite of Japan’s much-advertised population problem. All available state resources have always gone for armaments and for subsidies to big capitalist industries, and there has never been any money for developing agriculture either in the Hokkaido or the rest of Japan. Money was quickly found for road-building in Manchuria, because these roads were of a military character, but nothing was ever made available for a similar purpose in Hokkaido and half the land available there remains waste.

The Periodic Crisis

The incredible burden of landlord-usurer parasitism on Japan’s rural economy is not the only burden which the peasantry has to sustain. We have already mentioned taxation. At the beginning of Japan’s modern history, which dates from the Meiji Restoration, the country had virtually no industry. The new national government which superseded the feudal principalities adopted a policy of taxing agriculture in order to create an industry – or, rather, in order to subsidize the budding capitalists in new industrial enterprises. In spite of the exceedingly low productivity of the land, the government has continued to tax it. Today it is taxed more heavily than ever before. The heavier burden of taxes on agriculture is one of the methods of subsidizing industry. And, of course, the incidence of taxation among the peasant proprietors falls most heavily on the smallest holders. It has been conservatively estimated that the combined burdens of rents, accumulated indebtedness and interest, state, prefectural and village taxation amount to at least 89 per cent and possibly even more of the country’s net agricultural produce. There is nothing, or practically nothing, left for the 5½ million peasant families.

Japan’s agrarian problem reached a stage of acute crisis in 1918, when rice riots broke out in rural areas throughout the country at the height of the industrial boom which marked the first World War. Again in 1930, and extending through 1932, there was another serious crisis when the full impact of the crisis in America, following the stock market crash of 1929, was felt by Japan’s silk industry. Almost all of Japan’s silk, product of toilsome home industry, was exported to America, the one country in the world with a market capable of absorbing the expensive finished products. Japan’s sericultural industry was thrown into chaos and the precarious economic balance of the numerous peasant households was upset. Japan’s textile industry was also dislocated because it depended largely on the silk export to secure raw cotton from America. And the dislocation of the textile industry, in turn, affected the heavy industry which depended upon the export surplus created by the sale of cotton textiles abroad for imports of its own essential requirements. For the peasants the upset was catastrophic. Landlords and tax-gatherers put on the squeeze as more and more defaults occurred, but were powerless to stem the tide. Peasants, openly rebellious, rioted in the villages and attacked hydro-electric stations (immediate source of their irrigation troubles) as their desperate poverty became still more desperate and their very survival became at stake. The agrarian crisis made its effects felt in all branches of the economy. Big capital was interested in both land and sericulture. Through the banks they held mortgages on which neither interest nor principal could be collected. As merchants they were vitally concerned in silk exports, and as industrialists they gained enormous profits from their monopoly control of the fertilizer market now threatening to go down in ruin with the peasantry. The country seethed on the verge of revolution. A bourgeois commentator, Dr. Washio, described the agrarian situation thus:

Rural distress is very acute and in the opinion of most sincere observers is past hope of salvation within the existing economic system. Some who sincerely look for rural salvation suggest land nationalization to be effected by the issue of Government bonds at a special low rate of interest, so low that the peasants can bear it and feel comparative relief from the present burden of rent. Land nationalization at the price landowners ask would be manifestly ruinous to the state, but owing to the prevailing rural distress and rebellious attitude of tenants the position of landowners has become hopeless. (Trans-Pacific, September 1, 1932.)

Japanese agriculture under the present system is doomed to further decline and destruction. The burden of parasitism is too great to permit of anything more than the slenderest margin to the real producer who does the backbreaking toil – and even then he must go head over heels in debt to live at all. Agriculture is the rock-bottom foundation of the country’s economy, interlocked with it, inseparable from it, in no sense independent. Crisis in agriculture means crisis in the economy as a whole. And it is, in reality, an unending crisis – not just a “problem” to be solved at leisure. The events of 1918 and 1930-1932 were merely high points in the crisis. The “solution” of Japan’s ruling class to the sharp expression of the crisis in the early ‘thirties was a series of piddling makeshifts, an ample measure of police repression directed against the desperate people and – the invasion of Manchuria. At this point we can recall, and regard as fully demonstrated, Trotsky’s assertion that the invasion of Manchuria was an expression, not of Japan’s strength, but of its weakness – more precisely, its incurable decay. It is indeed instructive, as Trotsky said, to “consider the analogy between the Manchurian adventure of Czarism which led to the war of 1904-5, and this adventure of the Mikado’s government.” In the one case as in the other, the military adventure was a desperate attempt to stave off revolution. Czarism survived for another 12 years after 1905. Imperialist Japan has likewise survived 12 years since she hurled her armies into Manchuria in 1931. But Japan, unlike Czarist Russia, now faces her “October” and not her 1905. Her ruling class succeeded in temporarily shelving the fundamental agrarian problem after 1932 by means of war, subsidized exports and inflation. These stimulated but did not cure and the day of reckoning must come. Thus far we have touched only in passing on the social consequences of Japan’s economic backwardness and decay. It is necessary to go into more detail. In the case of the workers, the normal standard of life is little above that of English workers at the dawn of the factory system, while the general condition of the large peasant class is no better than that of the rural communities in China or India. When the economic crisis becomes acute, as in the years 1930-32, conditions in the Japanese village reach a condition of stark horror resembling India or China in time of famine. Here is a report from among scores that could be quoted which appeared in the Japan Times for June 7, 1932:

The Social Consequences

With starvation staring them in the face the impoverished communities of Nagano, Iwatte and Niigata are selling their young girls into prostitution, eating warabe (bracken) where such a “delicacy” is still obtainable, cooking bean-cake ordinarily used as fertilizer with various kinds of grass as their regular food ... In Nagano prefecture those who can afford to eat barley are very well off. Every tree in the hills is bare, its fruit, however bad it may taste, having been picked by hungry children ... In one village the investigator found that last year the total income of a certain peasant was 130 yen whilst his losses were 366 yen. In order to make up for such losses peasants and poor farmers are selling off their children. The most unfortunate are girls who are being taken away on payment of 3 to 10 yen on the promise that they will soon be brought home, and sold to unlicensed brothels. The same conditions prevail in Niigata prefecture. Young women of marriageable age are scarce as most of them have been sold off and there is a growing tendency to sell even primary school children. The prices for children are about 100 yen for third-grade pupils and about 400 for those who have finished school.

This, be it emphasized, is a description not of backward China or colonial India, but of imperialist Japan which aspires to draw all the peoples of East Asia into her “sphere of mutual co-prosperity.” The starvation and distress which the Japan Times reported was occurring at a time when government granaries were filled with rice for which there were no buyers. The harvest of 1931 had been poor, but it is not natural calamities which reduce the Japanese village to starvation. Good or bad harvests are equally disastrous for the tiller of the soil. The Ministry of Education appropriated a small sum to feed thousands of starving school children. But the government, rather than injure the rice merchants and landlords by distributing its own rice stocks to the hungry, dumped some of them abroad at a selling price about one-third of the then current selling price in Japan. This was done in spite of the flood of petitions and the riots which broke out when the government failed to relieve the desperate, suffering people. Disease followed on the heels of starvation and this was particularly terrible in Japan since there is no public health service and many villages have no doctor. So pitifully poor are the rural communities that when an epidemic of diphtheria broke out in Aamori there was no money to buy a bottle of serum (price two yen) for inoculation and the child victims died off like flies for lack of medical attention. Although there is, or was, a surplus of qualified doctors in the towns, they are reluctant to set up practices in the villages for the simple reason that hardly any of the peasants can pay even the smallest sum for their services.

In the midst of desperate famine, the employers in the silk-reeling industry, hit by the collapse of the silk market, defaulted on payment of wages to their miserably underpaid employees. According to the Japan Times of May 5, 1932:

The financial difficulties of the silk reeling industry have continued to get worse and this year the authorities concerned estimate that about 80 per cent of the silk reeling factories throughout the country are now in arrears in the payment of wages, affecting 400,000 operatives to the amount of yen 5,000,000 and 10,000,000.

The ruined and starving peasants defaulted on their tax payments, so that school teachers went unpaid and were added to the lists of the starving. Hunger demonstrations occurred far and wide. The government answered them with brutal repression. From the villages the crisis spread to envelop the cities. But while the people hungered, the capitalists lived well and got richer. Taking advantage of the unusually abundant supply of labor made available by the hunger in the villages, the big cotton mills cut wages again and again in 1931 and 1932 and so reduced their costs as to be able to embark on the tremendous expansion of their exports which ended in Japan becoming the leading exporter of cotton textiles.

Conditions in Cities

The crisis appeared to have “hit bottom” in 1932. In 1933 there was a brief breathing space due to a temporary revival of the American demand for silk, the fall in the exchange value of the yen, and to such a bumper harvest as had never previously been seen in Japan. For the first time in the history of modern Japan rice prices did not fall as usual, because of large government buying under a new system of rice control. But in 1934 there was drought and flood and frost and the disastrous Osaka typhoon, bringing another poor crop year. And, of course, distress nearly as bad as that described above descended on the land once more. It is not the vagaries of nature, however, which are responsible for Japan’s repeated economic disasters. Man has largely conquered nature. Responsible is Japan’s archaic system of production and lack of capital for development, combined with the great load of parasitism which denies to the working people of both town and country all possibility of putting by any surplus whatever for bad times. Between what the peasant realizes for his crop, and the amount he must pay out for rent, taxes, interest and fertilizer, there is only the faintest margin. Just as between the wages of the industrial worker, whether in a small shop or a large factory, and his cost of bare subsistence, there is likewise practically no margin. The utter inability of the Japanese ruling class to mitigate, much less prevent these crises, which have been occurring with more and more frequency, is clear enough testimony to the complete bankruptcy of the entire economic and social system. It explains, also, the unbridled imperialist ambitions of the Tokyo rulers. Like the Czar’s government, they are powerless to solve the country’s most pressing problems precisely because they have a vested interest in maintaining the social scheme of things of which those problems are the inevitable product. Instead they seek “solutions” in military adventures abroad which serve only to accentuate the decay of Japanese society and bring its rulers closer to the abyss of social revolution.

If the facts reveal an appalling state of things in the country-side of Japan, which contains more than half the country’s working population, matters are little better where it concerns the industrial workers in the cities or villages. In the years when Japan occupied a “respectable” place in the imperialist family, notably during the 20-year-period of the Anglo-Japanese Alliance which lasted until the Washington Conference of 1921; and even more notably during the period when, as “the gendarme of the East,” her present-day antagonists regarded her as an extremely valuable buffer against the spread of Bolshevism to the countries of East Asia, interested propagandists depicted Japanese life in general as a sort of Oriental rhapsody. Endless were the descriptions, and the photographs in picture magazines of Japanese maidens strolling through glorious parks in their colorful kimonos, of delightfully artistic wood and paper houses, miniature gardens, smiling women officiating at the “tea ceremony” or arranging flowers. These superficial aspects of a part of Japanese life served to hide the ugly realities behind and underneath. The large-scale Japanese factories with their dormitories for women workers were depicted as something in the nature of high-class boarding schools, rather than as places of arduous toil. The Japanese ruling class encouraged and assisted this type of propaganda. In this they were in turn helped by the naturally artistic appearance of Japanese houses (except, of course, the ugly and squalid huts of the workers and poor peasants). They refrained from pointing out, however, that they themselves preferred and lived in homes of brick or stone. And when it came to the factory dormitories, the pictures always showed them empty – not crowded with girls sleeping elbow to elbow on the floor.

If life were in reality so gay and pleasant as these propagandists would have had the world believe, how is one to account for the extraordinarily high mortality rate, both adult and infant, the high incidence of such characteristic diseases of poverty as tuberculosis and beri-beri, the widespread use of child labor in industry, the existence of real slavery in everything but name, prostitution on a scale found in no other country except China, the inferior status of women, the absence of social services, and the incredibly low wages paid to industrial workers?

Malnutrition and Disease

One of Tokyo’s leading newspapers published an article in 1932 showing that while the annual number of births in Japan is about 2,100,000, some 460,000 children between the ages of 1 and 14 die each year, largely because of undernourishment. And the Statistical Year Book of the League of Nations for 1935 gave Japan’s infant mortality rate as 121 per thousand, as compared with 76 for Germany, 66 for England, 100 for Italy, 48 for Switzerland. Only colonial India had a higher infant mortality rate, the figure being 171.

The incidence of sickness is very high amongst workers on account of poor food and lodging and excessive hours of labor. The government occasionally publishes sickness statistics of factories in all parts of Japan where not less than 500 workers are employed. High as they are, these figures are not representative, for they do not cover domestic or artisan industry or agriculture. However, they show a sickness rate of 33.8 per cent amongst women and 18.3 per cent amongst men. In textile factories the combined rate for women and men was 314 per 1,000 workers. Of these, 60 per 1,000 were cases of stomach and intestinal diseases which are attributable to coarse or bad food or to malnutrition; 23.9 per 1,000 were cases of bronchitis and 9.85 were cases of pleurisy, which must be mainly due to the change from the hot air of the workrooms to the unheated dormitories. Pulmonary tuberculosis is very prevalent in Japan and it is probable that many of the pleurisy cases amongst factory workers lead to, or turn out to be, cases of tuberculosis, which may be largely ascribed to the absence of fats in the diet and lack of air in the unventilated and unheated dormitories in winter.

Beri-beri, a disease of vitamin deficiency, is one of the most common in all industries, except in the gas, electricity and smelting industries where wages are somewhat higher. The prevalence of tuberculosis is shown more in the figures of death than of sickness, indicating that workers afflicted with this disease often go on working until they are near death, not reporting sick or not being considered as sick. Official statistics show that there are 88 deaths out of every 1,000 cases of tuberculosis, the highest death rate for any of the diseases, and that out of every 1,000 cases 211.8 are discharged from treatment before recovery or were on long sick leave. The highest sickness rate of all is found in the coal mines, where women work alongside men. The terrible effects of heavy mine labor on women is clearly seen from the fact that about 20 per cent of them suffer from diseases of the uro-genital organs – mainly diseases of the womb.

The Baroness Ishimoto, Japan’s leading feminist and would-be social reformer, has described the conditions in Japan’s coal mines: how the miners descend the pits by a platform without walls or rails; how girls are often crushed while carrying coal in baskets from pit to wagons when big trucks overturn, or through being caught under the wagons because of the excessive speed of the latter and the narrowness of the way. She states that prisoners in uniform with heavy chains on their hips are sent down to the mines to forced labor and that this competition, together with that of women and even children, brings down the wage level. She tells how the wives and daughters of miners, half naked, follow the men and carry out the coal as the men loosen it with picks; how sometimes pregnant women give birth to children in the pits, and how they go down to work in the mines with their infants tied on their backs. These are conditions in the mines of the Mitsui company, Japan’s wealthiest and most powerful trust. The Baroness comments with gentle irony on Japan’s alleged “beautiful family system which made men and women work harmoniously and pleasantly at their tasks” by describing “the crowded nests of ignorance, poverty and misery, the children born without love and reared without care or affection.” She says that when she hears the well-known boast that Japan is a paradise for children, she recalls the little children haunting her garbage box, the frequent sight of mothers beating their children, and the babies dying of illness without any medical attention or any nursing because their mothers are at work.

Japan’s ruling oligarchy always loves to boast of the country’s system of universal, compulsory education. Yet 47 per cent of the country’s mineworkers have either never been to school or have not finished the grades. Percentages are smaller for other industries. The yearly accident rate in the mines is extraordinarily high. Between 1920 and 1929, it varied from 60 per cent to 45 per cent of the numbers employed. Today it certainly is much higher because of the increased pressure of work combined with outmoded and unsafe methods. The loss of life has been estimated as 30 persons for every million tons of coal mined. Some 4,000,000 workers of various kinds, including miners, have in late years been entitled by law to some compensation when injured, but the scale of payments is very low. A worker hopelessly maimed for life receives 540 days’ wages, and one disabled for work for life 360 days’ wages. If disabled only for resumption of his former occupation, the amount is 180 days’ pay. It must be remembered, however, that the large numbers of men, women and children employed in artisan industry, in household industry, and in small factories outside the factory laws, are entitled to no compensation whatever for injury, either from their employer, from the merchant-manufacturer who pays them piece-rate wages, or from the State.

There is an almost complete absence of social services in Japan: no public hospitals, no unemployment insurance, no poor relief (except occasional charity from individuals distributed by the police). So that, except for the small proportion of workers in large factories which maintain their own hospitals, or those entitled to some compensation from their employers for occupational diseases, the poor, the widows, he orphans and the sick are left to what assistance they can get from relatives, or to die. Even lepers are not provided for, but are left to their families to take care of. Many of them become beggars (there are more than 25,000 vagabond lepers in Japan) and infect more persons with this dread disease. Similarly, there are some 200,000 lunatics for whom nothing is done. Only when the Emperor is to pass by in state are the lepers and lunatics in the neighborhood rounded up by the police and kept out of the way for the occasion. Another indication of the indifference of Japan’s rulers to the plight of the poor, who are the creation of the system, is furnished by a police report in 1935 which stated that there are some 250 cases a year of destitute mothers with young children who, after losing their husbands, kill their children and then commit suicide.



1. Hectare equals 2.471 acres.


Last updated on 20.3.2005