APPENDIX 2 Convict Labor at the Ashio Copper Mine
The beginning of convict labor
Convict labor was first used at Ashio before the Furukawa takeover of the mine. Little is known about the precise details, but it would seem that convict labor was introduced around the time of the opening of the Ashio prison on 10th December 1872 1). The prison was established in accordance with the Prisons Law passed in April the same year which provided for terms of imprisonment in place of the floggings that had previously been the norm.
What is certain is that convict labor was being used when the Furukawa company took control of the mine in 1877. The following is an extract from "Buildings at Honzan Dezawa", dated March 1877, an inventory of buildings taken over by the Furukawa company from the contractor Fukuda Kin'ichi3).
1. Prefectural penal station 1 building (width: 2 ken, length: 3 ken)
That some 50 convicts were at Ashio in August 1877, we know from a report sent from Ashio to the Furukawa head office which states that as part of the customary greetings to be offered to the employees for the Obon festival "three packs of vermicelli noodles (sômen)" (are to be given to) each prisoner; (there are) 50 prisoners, therefore 150 packs"4). The "Autobiography of Kimura Chôshichi" also records that the contractor Kamiyama Seiya "used convicts from Tochigi prefecture. This was how Ashio came to acquire a bad reputation as a place where convicts worked"5). Kamiyama Seiya employed 41 miners and hauliers and was the most powerful of the shitakaseginin. It is evident, then, that convict labor was in use at Ashio before Furukawa took over. Yet far from wishing it to cease, the company actually had plans for its expansion, as the following extract from a letter (8th October 1880) of the newly appointed mine director, Kimura Chôshichi, makes clear:6)
"We are curently employing a total of 750 workers at the mine, and in order to expand our operations, we have requested the Tochigi Prefectural authorities to provide us with a further 200 convict laborers whom we intend to put to work hauling firewood and charcoal. By this means we intend gradually to expand our operations to the point where we shall obtain a most profitable result".
Further evidence of the expansion of convict labor under the new company regime is the increase in the size of the prisoners' quarters at Ashio, from about 94 sq. meters in 1877 when Furukawa took over to 344 sq. meters) in December 1886 7).
What kind of jobs were the convicts made to do? As noted from Kimura Chôshichi's letter quoted above, they were mainly laboring jobs, particularly those which were transport-related such as "hauling firewood and charcoal". They were relied on, for instance, to haul the fuel supplies of wood and charcoal needed in the refining process. Frequently cited in this connection is an episode from the "Life of Furukawa Ichibei"8):
At that time (1881) our greatest operational handicap was a shortage of timber and charcoal as well as a shortage of labor." How Ashio welcomed the arrival of the convicts can be seen from a report sent to (Furukawa) : "In addition, following requests to the prefectural office, the despatch of the convicts proceeded with unexpected ease, and on the first of the month we were sent 20 hardened criminals who had been convicted of serious crimes, for which we were extremely grateful". However, it was not an easy matter to put the convicts to work. One day in 1881, five convicts working in pit 53 tied up their guards, escaped via pit no. 1, crossed the mountain leading to Sunokobashi and headed for Jôshû. Four were later recaptured, but the fifth evaded arrest, so we hired 18 hunters from Jôshû and ordered them to shoot (the fugitive) on sight. Because of the disturbances, the other convicts were not allowed to work for two days, as a result of which, there were not enough men to haul charcoal, and the furnace workers' holidays had to be cancelled".
This episode suggests that convicts worked underground as hauliers and that the transport of timber and charcoal depended entirely on their labor.
In the early period of Furukawa control, convict labor supplied a large part of the unskilled workforce. But although such labor was cheap, the amount of it was limited and difficulties arose over the varying numbers sent at the convenience of the penal authorities. Chart 4 shows "Tochigi Prefecture Statistics" figures for the annual numbers of inmates at Ashio prison in the years 1882 to 1888 as well as the dates in each year of the maximum and minimum numbers of prisoners.
[Source] compiled from "Tochigi Prefecture Statistics" 1886, 1887, 1888
The table shows that only in the years 1882 and 1883 were the numbers of inmates stable, whereas after 1884 the gap between the maximum and minimum numbers went from twofold to threefold. The numbers of arrivals as against those of discharges also fluctuated greatly, and the number of prisoners entering the prison in 1886 was 4.3 times the daily average prison population for the year. The period when the prison held the fewest inmates was between September and November, which was the busiest time of year for farmers and the time when Ashio suffered most from labor shortages. There were two reasons for this situation. Firstly, there was the effect of the two 'regional concentration prisons' built at Tôkyô and Miyagi in 1879. The Interior Ministry's Directive No. 20 of March that year stated that all prisoners in the prefectures in the Kantô and Chûbu regions, which included Tochigi, "serving sentences in excess of 1 and a half years are to be held at special concentration prisons"9). This meant that the only prisoners left in Tochigi prisons were those serving less than 1 year and a 6months, which reduced the period of time they were available for work at Ashio.
The second reason was the restrictions laid down by the Penal Code of 1872, which specified five categories of prison sentence in a class system based on the length of sentence ranging from sentences which involved fixed periods of hard labor down to those which incurred penalties of 'light' labor 10). According to the Code, a prisoner who received a class 5 sentence (hard labor) would be required to perform "such tasks as hauling earth and stone, clearing uncultivated land, pounding rice, pressing oil, and breaking rocks". After 100 days of this, however long the sentence, he would progress to class 4 which involved such jobs as "the construction of official buildings, repairing roads". As mining clearly involved class 5 labor, it was not possible for mining companies to use convicts for more than 100 days and comply with the law. The Penal Code was revised in 1881, and the class system of sentencing was abolished as it had been found to be impractical 11). Thereafter, it was permissible to use convict labor in mines for long periods, but its use was still subject to a number of official restrictions. For example, Article 42 of the 1881 Penal Code stipulated that in all cases where convict labor was employed outside prisons, a fixed number of prison wardens and overseers had to be present 12): "In cases where prisoners are engaged in labor beyond the confines of the prison establishment, the group must number no fewer than 10 and no more than 15 prisoners and must be supervised by a minimum of one warden and two overseers". Even when the Ashio gaol held many prisoners, not all could be put to work. The largest number of convicts which the 9 wardens, the 7 or 8 overseers and the 1 or 2 assistant overseers at the Ashio 13) gaol could therefore legitimately manage at work was 5 groups of 75 men. Even assuming that nearly all the gaol staff were engaged at any one time in outside supervision, there would still have had to be a number who remained at the gaol to guard those prisoners not working outside, so the maximum number of convicts able to work outside on any one day would have been in the order of 4 groups, or 60 men in total.
The situation was mentioned in a letter of 1881 from Kimura Chôbei to head office 14):
"We recently sent 15 serious offenders back to Tochigi, and of the 103 men currently here, we can use no more than 60 outside the gaol. There is therefore a shortage of convict labor here and the situation is very difficult. Consequently, we have decided to purchase three or four horses to transport charcoal from Kuzôzan."
The convicts' working conditions
We have no precise details as the working conditions under which the convicts at Ashio were forced to labor. The only evidence of the pay they received is given in the "Conditions at the Ashio Copper Mine" (1884) by Ôhara Junnosuke who notes that "the transport (of timber and charcoal) is mostly carried out by convict labor from Tochigi Prefecture (who receive 13 sen a day)"15). However, it would not be right, on the basis of this single piece of evidence, to assert that each and every convict was paid 13 sen a day, since we know of the payment regulations for prisoners16) instituted in July 1881 which decreed that "after 100 days of a prisoner's fixed sentence have elapsed, a schedule of remuneration will be assessed for each prisoner who will be allowed to keep 1/10th of the amount allotted to him; the remainder will be retained by the prison authorities". This regulation was incorporated as it stands into the 1881 Penal Code adopted in September that year. Prisoners thus had to work for nothing for the first 100 days of their sentence and thereafter received only 1/10th of their remuneration which was itself in any case far lower than the rate paid to non-convict workers17).
The regulation was, however, soon revised: "those (prisoners) serving under the present regulations will be paid 1/10th of their wage if serving sentences in excess of seven years; those serving under five years will be paid 2/10ths"18). This was indeed an improvement, but not much of one. The 13 sen a day paid out by the Furukawa company was not a wage paid directly to the prisoner but remuneration paid to the prison authorities. While the prisoner's meals were of course provided by the state, he was paid nothing for his first 100 days' labor, and the 1 sen 3 rin or 2 sen 6 rin a day he received in hand thereafter represented only 1/15th or 2/15ths of the daily wage of the ordinary worker.
Convicts' working hours were prescribed in detail by the Penal Code and were not as long as might be expected if seen in the light of the conventional image of convict labor, although others might think it only reasonable that convicts should not have had to work unduly long hours. We have already noted that, under the 1872 Penal Code, class 5 serious offenders' sentences only incurred 100 days of hard labor. The less serious class 4 offenders had to work 260 days in a 5 year period if serving a life sentence and 100 days if serving a one year sentence. Compulsory labor was further commutated for class 3 prisoners. Prisoners worked an 8 hour day, from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. with a break from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. The break was extended to three hours, from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., between the 1st May and the 31st July. Work then ended at 6 p.m., but it was still an 8 hour day19). This regime was revised in 1881 when, as has been described above, the various classes of forced labor were abolished. This was in itself certainly a change for the worse, but working hours per month were prescribed in great detail, and the average working day, at 7 hours 41 minutes, was actually 20 minutes shorter than before20). From the point of view of working hours therefore, convicts were better off than ordinary workers. One can, of course, question the extent to which the new regulations were respected, but there is evidence from the Furukawa silver mine at Karuizawa in Fukushima Prefecture which refers to "reduced working hours for convicts"; the Penal Code could not be completely ignored. Although, strictly speaking, not a matter of 'working conditions', it should not be overlooked that, when working outside the jail, pairs of prisoners were chained to each other to prevent escape attempts, and there were numerous punishments for those who broke prison regulations. At the Ashio jail, 10 prisoners in 1886, 4 in 1887 and 3 in 1888 were punished by having their meals cut21). This penalty, which meant that the size of a prisoner's meal would "be cut by 1/2 or 2/3 of the normal amount and (would) not include soy sauce (shôyu) or two portions of vegetables"22) was particularly severe for those doing hard labor. However, the following two sources indicate more clearly than anything else what the working conditions of convicts at Ashio were really like. The first is part of an official account of the convicts' escape attempt referred to earlier in a quotation from "The Life of Furukawa Ichibei"
"[July 1881] Four convicts attempted to escape from Ashio jail. After rearrest, they resisted efforts to put them back in their cells and violently attempted to escape once again so that the authorities, in their efforts to restrain them, were forced to use staves which happened to be to hand with the result that three were beaten to death and one was seriously injured"23).
This short account clearly indicates the nature of the harsh treatment that was meted out to convicts who tried to escape. Killing three escapees and seriously wounding another was tantamount to lynching them. At a glance, it would seem that the action was a justifiable case of the authorities being 'forced to' use violent restraint in the face of violence on the part of the convicts, but in fact, the account makes it clear that violence was used against the convicts not in the attempt to arrest them, but after they had been arrested and were being put back in their cells. It is hard to imagine that men who had already lost their freedom could not be 'restrained' without beating them to death. Even if the convicts did indeed 'violently attempt to escape once again', they could easily have been prevented from doing so by the wardens and overseers who were normally armed with guns and swords. However, these were not the weapons used against them; they were killed with staves. This was not a case of guns and swords being used to restrain convicts who were trying to escape, but of the killing of three men and the wounding of a fourth with staves that just happened to be 'to hand'. The fact that this violence was committed in front of the prison cells, and the convicts were 'restrained' with "staves which happened to be to hand" is evidence that this was, in effect, a lynch party, a demonstration for the benefit of the other prisoners.
The second source which reveals something of the true manner in which convicts were put to work at Ashio is the statistics shown in chart 5 below. These are figures for the number of deaths in the three Tochigi Prefecture prisons.
[source] "Tochigi Prefecture Statistics" 1886, 1887, 1888. Death sentence inmates omitted.
The fact that the Ashio prison's death rate is considerably higher than those of Utsunomiya and Tochigi is telling evidence of the real nature of convict labor, especially in mines, despite the seemingly 'reasonable' conditions laid down for it in the Penal Code.
The significance of convict labor in the development of the mining industry
Much has been made of the importance of the role played by convict labor in the development of Japanese capitalism and particularly in that of the mining industry. Previous studies into the use of convict labor in the Miike and Horonai coal mines have greatly emphasized the significance of such forced labor in the mining industry, but after a detailed examination of the use of convict labor at Ashio, it is my view that such conclusions deserve to be challenged.
"The most expedient way of improving productivity (was) with the use of convicts 'on loan' from the government. That such labor was used at Takashima, Miike, Nakakosaka and Horonai is well-known, but it was also employed at Asato and Besshi. In particular, convict labor enabled the exploitation of the Ônaori (bonanza) at the Ashio copper mine in 1884. Convict labor can be said to have underpinned the development of the Japanese mining industry in its early phase"24).
As Tsuda affirms, the use of convict labor was certainly widespread throughout the mining industry. In addition to the places he mentions, from the 1870s to the 1890s, convict labor was also employed at Kanehiramura copper mine in Kanazawa Prefecture, a mine in Hôjô Prefecture, Seishozan mine in Shiga Prefecture, Yoshioka copper mine in Okayama Prefecture, the state-owned mine of Ikuno, the Handa and Karuizawa silver mines in Fukushima Prefecture, Chikuhô coal mines, and by the Nishitani mining company in Fukui Prefecture25). A high proportion of court sentences which included hard labor outside the prison specified that such labor was to be performed in mines. But was the importance of such labor in the development of the Japanese mining industry sufficient to warrant the claim that it "underpinned the development" of the industry?
At the Miike and Horonai coal mines convict labor was heavily employed in the actual process of extraction, a situation which continued at Miike for many years26), but as Hidemura Senzô points out, the convicts used at Miike and Horonai were men serving long-term sentences from the regional 'concentration' prisons (shûjikan) which took prisoners from various different prefectures. "They were from the beginning inserted into a system of control which aimed to supplement the workforce in coal mines with convict labor"27).
The first year for which we have reliable figures for the total number of mineworkers in the industry is 1893 when at the end of that year, as the author has shown elsewhere, there were 86,91730). Convict labor even in that early period therefore amounted to only 2.5% of the total labor force engaged in coal and metal mines nationawide, and the major proportion of them were concentrated in specially designated mines such as Miike. It is therefore an exaggerated and unjustified generalisation to assert that "convict labor...underpinned the development of the Japanese mining industry in its early phase".
The end of convict labor at Ashio
The use of convict labor at Ashio reached a peak in 1884. 249 inmates, the highest ever daily figure, were recorded on 1st July that year. The total number for the year was 68,216, a daily average of 187, and another all-time high. On the other hand, the regular Ashio workforce had tripled in size since the year before to reach 3067, and the proportion of convict labor soon declined accordingly. The spiralling demand for labor which accompanied the discovery of the bonanza went far beyond the limits of what the Tochigi Prefectural Prison was able to provide. It began to be felt that the presence of convict labor actually hampered efforts to recruit ordinary miners.
At the same time, there was an increasing number of escape attempts by convicts working outside and a policy of reducing outside work and increasing inside work was adopted. In 1884 the Police Department began to issue orders to 'prevent outside labor by convicts unless circumstances absolutely require it', and in 1885 the Interior Ministry ordered a tightening-up of controls on outside work. In response, the Gunma prefectural authorities banned outside work at all prisons in their area of responsibility31). When the Takashima Coal Mine Affair became a major scandal in 1888 and drew people's attention to the conditions under which miners had to labor, the tide began to turn against the use of convict labor in mines. A clear example of this was the Besshi copper mine. In November 1888, the Ehime prefectural assembly, citing "the many occurrences of illness and fatality" among the convict laborers at Besshi and the fact that the work they were required to do was "far more severe than other forms of (prison) service", resolved to recommend the closure of the Besshi and Tachikawa jails which were under the authority of Matsuyama Prison. Both jails were duly closed the following March32). Ashio's jail was also closed at the same time, on 31st March, and converted into the Utsunomiya Prison Ashio Work Station. On 30th September 1891 this too was closed33).
1) 'The History of Utsunomiya Prison' (Penal Association ed. "A History of Modern Japanese Penal Administration" Vol. 2, 1943) p. 1127.
2) Tashiro Zenkichi "A History of Tochigi Prefecture" (Shitano Historical Society, 1935) p. 446.
3) Itsukakai ed. "The Life of Furukawa Ichibei" (Itsukakai, 1926) p. 107.
4) "The Life of Furukawa Ichibei", appendix p. 32
5) Shigeno Kichinosuke ed. "The Autobiography of Kimura Chôshichi" (private publ., 1938) pp. 116-117.
6) Shigeno Kichinosuke "The Life of Kimura Chôshichi" (private publ., 1937) p. 46.
7) "Tochigi Prefecture Statistics" 1886, p. 308.
8) "The Life of Furukawa Ichibei" p. 126.
9) Prisons Association ed. "A History of Modern Japanese Penal Administration" Vol. 2, p. 64.
10) Cabinet Records Office "Complete Legal Statutes" (1891, reissued by Hara Shobô, 1980 Criminal and Penal Law Vol. 3 pp. 67,68,90.
11) Prisons Association ed. "A History of Modern Japanese Penal Administration" Vol. 2, pp. 1176-1177.
12) Cabinet Records Office "Complete Legal Satutes" Criminal and Penal Law, pp.168- 169.
13) "Tochigi Prefecture Statistics" 1886 p. 307, 1887 and 1888 p.333. Other staff members were the chief gaoler and the secretary. The numbers of wardens and overseers dropped In 1889/90 to 7 wardens and 3 overseers in 1889, and 8 wardens and 4 wardens in 1890.
15) Labor History Records Committee ed. "Historical Documents of the Japanese Labor Movement" Vol. 1, p. 82.
16) Cabinet Records Office "Complete Legal Statutes" Criminal and Penal Law, pp. 157- 158.
17) General laborers at Ashio in 1884 were paid between 20 and 23 sen a day. At the Karuizawa silver mine, also operated by Furukawa, "convicts were paid 1/5th of the wage of an ordinary worker" ("Journal of the Japan Mining Association" No. 60 Feb. 1890. No. 65 (July 1890) of the same journal also carries a report on the use of convict labor at the Karuizawa silver mine. Convicts working at the Handa silver mine in Fukushima Prefecture in 1888 were each being paid an average of 12 sen 5 rin remuneration a day ('The Handa Silver Mine' "Journal of the Japan Mining Association" No. 39, May 1888).
18) Cabinet Records Office "Complete Legal Statutes" Criminal and Penal Law, p. 195. The revision of prison regulations in 1889 decreed that long sentence prisoners were to be paid 2/10ths and short sentence prisoners 4/10ths. ("A History of Modern Japanese Penal Administration" Vol. 2, p. 1232).
19)19) Cabinet Records Office "Complete Legal Statutes" Criminal and Penal Law, pp. 68- 69.
20)20) See the chart of 'Convicts Working Hours' in "Complete Legal Statutes", p. 187, which details monthly work and rest hours. Prisoners were to wake up at sunrise, and have their evening meal finished and be back in their cells by sunset.
21) "Tochigi Prefecture Statistics" 1886 p. 313, and 1887/8 p. 339.
22)22) '1881 Penal Code' Article 103 ("Complete Legal Statutes" Criminal and Penal Law, p. 178)
23) Prisons Association ed. "A History of Modern Japanese Penal Administration" Vol. 2, p. 87. See under "Official chronological records".
24) Tsuda Masumi 'The Mining Industry in the Early Meiji Period' ("Hitotsubashi University Research Yearbook" Sociology Studies 13, 1974). Tsuda claims that "convict labor enabled the exploitation of the Ônaori (bonanza) at the Ashio copper mine in 1884", but as far as I is aware, there is no evidence of convicts at Ashio ever having been used for prospecting and ore extraction. In "A History of Modern Japanese Penal Administration" there is indeed a reference to "convicts extracting ore" (see p. 1120 and appendix p. 151). But all references to Ashio in the book are drawn from "The Life of Furukawa Ichibei", and there are no other facts to back up that single reference. In passing, it may be noted that Article 44 of the 1889 Penal Code Provisions of Enforcement states that: 'male prisoners shall be required to perform tasks such as rock-breaking, land clearance, ore mining, laboring, stone cutting, and agricultural haulage or any other work outside the prison establishment in accordance with the needs of the said establishment' ("A History of Modern Japanese Penal Administration" Vol. 2, p. 1235). The judiciary were accustomed to referring to work in the mines generally as 'ore mining'.
25) See "A History of Modern Japanese Penal Administration" Vol. 2, chapter 6 and appendix. For the Yoshioka mine, see "Mitsubishi Company Journal" Vol. 2 p. 282, and for the Karuizawa silver mine, see "Journal of the Japan Mining Association" No. 60, Feb. 1890. For the Chikuhô coal mines, see note 2)27).
26)) For convict labor at Miike, see Tanaka Naoki "Historical Studies of Japanese Coalminers" (Sôfûkan, 1984) pp. 240-269. The situation at Horonai is discussed on p. 245 of the same volume. There is good reason to believe that estimates of the numbers of convicts employed at Miike have been greatly exaggerated; see Nimura Kazuo 'Numbers of Mineworkers in the Early Years of the Mining Industry' (2)' ("Research Monthly" No. 290, Oct. 1982).
27) Hidemura Senzô 'Convict Labor in Fukuoka Coalmines in the Early and Mid-Meiji Periods - Prison Despatch Stations, Workplaces, and Jails' (Kyûshû University "Studies in Economics" Vol. 37, Nos. 1-6, Feb. 1972).
28)) Exceptional cases where convicts were sent to coal and metal mines outside the local prefecture were Miike coal mine which took convicts from all the Kyûshû prefectural jails, the Ikuno silver mine in Hyôgo Prefecture which took them from Okayama Prefecture, and the Handa silver mine in Fukushima which took convicts 'on loan' for a short period from the Miyagi regional concentration prison.
29)29) For 1886, see "The 7th Annual Statistics" no. 255, p. 592.
30) Nimura Kazuo ' 'Numbers of Mineworkers in the Early Years of the Mining Industry' (1)' ("Research Monthly" No. 289, Sept. 1982).
31) Prison Association ed. "A History of Modern Japanese Penal Administration" 2, pp. 1204-1205.
32)32) "The History of the Labor Movement in Ehime Prefecture" Vol. 1, pp. 78- 79, 85-86.
33)"Modern Japanese Penal Administration" 2, p. 1127.