Kazuo Nimura
Takano Fusataro and His Times

  Chapter 10    The Birth of the Ironworkers' Union
            - Japan's first labor union -

The 27 founding committee members. Front row, left: Takano Fusataro and next to him, Katayama Sen (from Katayama Sen and Nishikawa Mitsujiro, Nihon no rodo undo [The Labour Movement in Japan]

The greatest day in his life

December 1, 1897 was literally the greatest day of Fusatarô's life. That day saw the realization of the dream he had had for many years - the inaugural meeting of Japan's first modern labor union, the Ironworkers' Union (Tekkô kumiai). Ironworker (Tekkô) is a generic term for all those workers who worked in metalworks, engineering factories and workshops. In the run-up to the founding of the union, on October 24 a 'Meeting to Draw Up the Statutes of the Ironworkers' Union was held, and on November 14 a 'Preparatory Meeting for the Inauguration of the Ironworkers' Union', at which the committee members for the inaugural meeting were selected.
    The inaugural meeting itself was held at the Tokyo YMCA hall in Kanda at 6 pm on December 1. The eager union members had decorated the area around the hall with bunting, and it was lit with several hundred paper lanterns. The YMCA Building in Kanda that was used for Kiseikai meetings and for the inaugural meeting of the Ironworkers' Union. There were flowers and bonsai placed throughout the YMCA building itself, and the participants were greeted with some energetic playing by a group of musicians. It is clear from the extent of the preparations, which included such decorations and even music, how confident the union members felt in themselves and how much they had looked forward to this day. Over 1,180 members of the Ironworkers' Union were present as well as members of Kiseikai, and of various other occupations, making a total of 1,300 participants. The Mainichi Newspaper the following day carried this report:

    The inaugural meeting of the Ironworkers' Union, which has been created by the Society for the Formation of Labor Unions, was held yesterday at 6 pm at the Seinen Hall in Kanda-Mitoshirochô. Presiding at the proceedings, Mr. Takano Fusatarô spoke about the meeting and about the nature of the Ironworkers' Union and then introduced Mr. Sakuma Teiichi, who explained the need for labor unions in the world of work, attacked the poor treatment of workers in today's industrial society and argued that if owners did not take steps to ameliorate conditions for workers, not only would industry not be able to develop properly, but the result would be the eventual decay of society as a whole, and he expressed his fullest sympathies with workers over the issue of wages. Mr. Takano then introduced Mr. Shimada Saburô, who told something of his personal history in becoming a factory worker, of how he had become a man through his struggles, and of his view that there are no highs and lows in occupations in society but only in the quality of individuals. He attacked the idea that only the rich should be respected and closed his speech with the assertion that it is the workers, who make their living by the sweat of their brows, who ought to be respected. Mr. Takano Iwasaburô then conclusively argued that workers have an obligation and a right to press for higher wages and said that it was to be deplored that workers had to insist on higher wages. Mr. Suzuki Jun'ichirô added his advice for workers, and Mr. Miyoshi Taizô moved the audience with his impressions. Finally, as one of the secretaries of Kiseikai, Mr. Katayama Sen mounted the platform and said that Kiseikai had been misunderstood by society but that this misunderstanding could be cleared up fully by this founding meeting of the Ironworkers' Union. The meeting closed at 10 pm.

Fusatarô's wish that he would be able to explain the importance of labor unions to the people of his own country and found such unions in Japan was finally realized that night.   He opened the evening's event as chairman of the Inaugural Committee of the Ironworkers' Union speaking to that packed assembly and played the high-profile role of presiding over the whole event.   His brother Iwasaburô also spoke on the platform as a guest speaker.   Fusatarô was able to introduce his brother as a Bachelor of Law, who had graduated from the Imperial University and had been promised a professorial post at his alma mater. Fusatarô must certainly have felt once again that the long, difficult years he had spent supporting his brother were now over.   The two goals towards which he had striven so patiently and arduously for so long - the formation of a labor union in Japan and his brother's successful development - had been achieved at the same time. His mind must have been full of memories and all kinds of emotions must have arisen within him that evening. One of them was relief that he had been able to fulfil Samuel Gompers' expectations of him. Gompers had not been sparing in the support he had rendered through organizing syndicated English language reports, but at the same time, he had urged upon Fusatarô the importance of freeing himself as soon as possible from 'promotional and educational groups' such as Kiseikai and of organizing a real labor union.
    Present as guests that night were Miyoshi Taizô, who spoke the celebratory address and who had been a former President of the Chief Justices [today's Chief Justice of the Supreme Court], Shimada Saburô, then the Deputy Speaker of the House of Representatives in the Diet, and from the government side, Shimura Gentaroo, Head of the Office of Engineering at the Ministry of Agriculture and Commerce which was responsible for dealing with labor issues, and Oda Hajime, Head of the Documents Office at the Ministry of Agriculture and Commerce. Major figures from the judiciary, the legislature, and the administration were all present.
    Even more important was the fact that other guests included engineers from the Tokyo Arsenal and the Ministry of Posts and Communications Telephone and Telegraph Lighthouse Equipment Factory. The attendance of such engineers, who were the ironworkers' superiors, gave the impression that the relevant authorities at the arsenal and elsewhere welcomed the formation of the Ironworkers' Union, and having their presence at the inaugural ceremony was a big boost for the union's later development.
    The inaugural meeting closed with three cheers of "Tekkô kumiai banzai!", and the singing of the national anthem followed by thunderous applause from all participants. It was already almost 11 pm; the celebratory gathering had continued for five hours.

The first issue of The Labor World

On the same day of the foundation meeting of the Ironworkers' Union, December 1 1897, the first issue of the Rôdôkumiai Kiseikai newspaper Rôdô Sekai (The Labor World) appeared. It had been long in the planning, and Kiseikai's statutes state that "the Society will publish a newspaper at least once a month and will distribute it to the members", but this intention could only be realized after the second monthly meeting on September 4 when the 'Magazine Publication Committee' members were selected. This committe, which included Fusatarô, first met on September 12 and decided on the following policy, which was confirmed at Kiseikai's third monthly meeting on October 10:

The Newspaper Enterprise
    1.   Two issues to be published each month
    2.   Publication premises to be located in the Tokyo area.
The Newspaper Enterprise Organization
    1.   Employees of the enterprise must all be Kiseikai members, but the business and operational management of the enterprise must not proceed in direct relation to Kiseikai....

What was special about this policy was that while this was to be an organ of Kiseikai, it was not to be produced by Kiseikai but by a separate company and at a separate location. Funds were raised from members, and the Rôdô Shinbunsha (The Labor Newspaper Company) was created, whose members were those who had contributed the funds. The company took on full responsibility for the production of the newspaper. The risks involved in running a newspaper company were taken into account in such a way that in the case of a deficit, the ordinary members would not have to assume the liability. On Nov. 8 Fusatarô wrote in a letter to Gompers:

    The membership of the association has now reached to [a] little over eleven hundred and our prospect is brightening daily.   Besides its regular work, the association will, within the course of a month, public a twi-weekly [sic] paper entitled "Labor World." All details and plan of raising fund were decided upon at the last night meeting. So you expect a labor paper in Japan before present year elapse.

The first issue of Rôdô Sekai (The Labor World) appeared on December 1, 1897. The publication office of the Labor Newspaper Company was located at 163 Mototabata, Takinogawa-ku, Kitatoshima county, Tokyo Prefecture. The location of the office was on the Yamanote line; the Tokyo's busiest and most important railway loop line connecting most of Tokyo's major stations and urban centres, but at that time the place was not in the city, the outskirt of the central area of Tokyo. The newspaper was printed at Shûeisha's No.1 Factory.
   Kiseikai itself referred to The Labor World in its statutes and elsewhere as a 'magazine' (zasshi), and the reprinted edition was published as reduced size format, so it was frequently misunderstood to be a 'magazine', but in fact it was a tabloid newspaper. With twelve pages in the first issue and ten pages in subsequent issues, the newspaper appeared on the 5th and 15th of each month. Each copy cost 2 sen, and 5 rin were charged to send it by post. A six month subscription cost 26 sen postage included. About 1,500 copies would have been printed at the time of the first issue. The front page of the first issue of the Rôdô Kiseikai newspaper Rôdô Sekai [(The) Labor World],
    The first issue was printed in two colors, black and red. The top half of the front page was taken up by celebratory greetings from Miyoshi Taizô, the former President of the Chief Justices, Shimada Saburô, the Deputy Speaker of the House of Representatives and President of Mainichi Newspaper, and Suzuki Junichirô. While the lower half consisted of a large cartoon by Kobayashi Kiyochika, known as 'the last of the ukiyoe painters' and a famous illustrator whose handling of light and shadow had no equal. He also displayed his genial talents in humourous and satiric cartoon for a Punch like magazine Maru-maru chinbun.
    Following the front page came greetings from Matsumura Kaiseki, Takano Iwasaburô, Abe Iso'o, and various articles, such as ''A Statement to All Workers" by Sakuma Tei'ichi, "Capitalists' Words" by Yokoyama Gen'nosuke (pen name, Tengai Bôbôsei), "New economy" by C. E. Garst and a report by Takano Fusatarô "Coalminers' strikes in North America". The group of writers on the first issue of The Labor World, and the support shown by so many intellectuals, headed by major figures in society including justices and legislators such as Miyoshi and Shimada, reflected the store Fusatarô set on such support and must have made him feel very gratified. Miyoshi Taizô's name was probably there because he was chairman of the board of the Tokyo YMCA which owned the YMCA Hall.
    The entire text on the last page was in English, and besides the Labor World editorial, which seems to have been written by Katayama Sen, there were congratulatory greetings from Charles Garst (whose Japanese name was Tanzei Tarô = Single tax John) and E. Foxwell, a professor at Imperial University. Although it was only one page, the inclusion of text in English played an important part in gaining international recognition of the Japanese labor movement. Labor World reported that it was in regular exchange with 23 other foreign labor newspapers. Kiseikai made numerous important contributions to the Japanese social movement but prominent among them was the fact that Rôdô Sekai became a model for later newspapers and magazines of social organizations in Japan, and its habit of having a final page in English was adopted by later, socialist organizations in the Meiji period, which played a helpful role in establishing relations between the movement in Japan and the movement overseas.

The personalities behind The Labor World - Yokoyama Gen'nosuke and Uematsu Kôshô

The men who ran The Labor World were its chief editor Katayama Sen, chief accountant Matsumura Tamitarô, and the general manager Kakekawa Motoaki. However, Matsumura was a foreman at the Tokyo Arsenal and Kakekawa Motoaki was a manager at Shûeisha, so their busy day jobs would likely have meant that the actual work of accounting and general management would have fallen to Katayama Sen, or else other personnel may have been taken on for these specific jobs, with Matsumura and Kakekawa recognized as being in charge in name only.
    At the time of the first issue, the main writers for The Labor World were Katayama Sen (editorials) and Yokoyama Gen'nosuke and Uematsu Kôshô, who wrote the other pages. Katayama, as chief editor, was of course responsible for the overall production of the paper. In each issue he wrote the editorial and a review and report column titled Rôdô Sekai. Katayama also put his energies into the day to day operation of the paper in that he also put together many of its advertisements himself.

Yokoyama and Uematsu were the editorial staff, but Yokoyama played an especially large role. However, Yokoyama's role has not been correctly evaluated up to now. The main reason for this is probably because in his autobiography, Katayama Sen did not give the name of Yokoyama as one of those who was involved with The Labor World but merely referred to him in Nihon no rôdô undô (The Labor Movement in Japan) as one of "the main contributors of writings for The Labor World". As a result, Yokoyama Gen'nosuke is well-known as the author of Nihon no kasô shakai (The Lower Classes of Japanese Society) but he is still hardly known as a labor activist. Yet the story of the early period of The Labor World cannot be told without reference to the energetic activities of Yokoyama Gen'nosuke. One only has to look through the pages of the newsapaper to realize this. Certainly, a quick glance would not reveal it, as there are few pieces written in his own name, but he made use of several pen names such as Tengai Bôbôsei, Han'nyomu, Master Shichitenhakki-rô and also wrote anonymously. During the year after the first issue, Yokoyama wrote more pieces for The Labor World than anyone, including Katayama, and a wider variety of pieces also. His column Kôko Mangen (Miscellaneous notes), written under the pen name Tengai Bôbôsei, his regular articles on 'Homelife' (Katei), his numerous anonymous articles on a variety of ubjects and his serialized stories written under the name Hannyomu - Tekkotsu-ji (Iron Bone Man), Tomokasegi (Double income family), Fuheitô (The Party of the Discontents) and Hakuba Gin'an (White Horse, Silver Saddle) were all evidence of versatile, prodigious activity. In particular, Fuheitô was based on the Japan Railways locomotive driver' strike and is regarded as a pioneering work of literary social realism dealing with the lives of workers. Yokoyama Gen'nosuke put more energy into his contributions for The Labor World than he did into his regular job as a writer with the Mainichi Shimbun newspaper.

Alongside Yokoyama, another key figure on The Labor World editorial staff was Uematsu Kôshô, who under both his own name and under the pen name Heiminjô (Fortress of the Common People) wrote editorials and commentaries, columns of various kinds, and the social novel Anbijin (Dark Beauty). His contributions, like those of Yokoyama, were of various kinds. As writers, the two men were real all-rounders. One could perhaps say that Yokoyama was responsible for the softer, and Uematsu the harder-edged contributions. Uematsu had gotten to know Katayama Sen through Sugita Kin'nosuke, a friend of Katayama's from his days at Yale and had become a great help with editorial work for The Labor World. Uematsu went on to become editor-in-chief at Tôyô Kaizai Shinpô (Eastern Economic Journal), where he was later able to help out the aging Katayama Sen by inviting him to become a guest member of staff.

At the time when The Labor World was run by Katayama Sen under his own responsibility, Nishikawa Mitsujirô was becoming active as an employee of The Labor Newspaper Company, but he did not take an active role in the movement when Kiseikai started nor during its most flourishing period.
    Meanwhile, Takano Fusatarô, although he was the chief secretary of Kiseikai, had no influence over The Labor World. Under Katayama, the newspaper gradually moved to adopt a clear position of support for socialism, but this contravened what were in effect the basic principles of Kiseikai, set out in "Shokkô shokun ni yosu" (A Call to Workers). Nevertheless, Fusatarô did not interfere with the editorial policy of The Labor World. It is possible that he did author one article, "Rôdô Sekai ni keikoku su" (A Warning to The Labor World), which was printed in in Rôdô Sekai under the name of the Rôdôkumiai Kiseikai. That would have been printed only after consultation and mutual agreement, but the likelihood that Fusatarô wrote the piece himself is small. The style differs from that of Takano's other writings. For example, the form of expression in the concluding section ? we strongly ask that Kiseikai take care it doesn't let itself be affected by the backdraft from the vehemence of Rôdô Sekai ? is not that of Fusatarô. This would seem to have been written by someone who was not used to writing proper Japanese. At any rate, Fusatarô continually avoided any open breach with Katayama. This was no doubt out of consideration that such open disagreements between leaders would reflect negatively on the organization, but also because he was not someone who liked to be in conflict with others.

Katayama by contrast, did not hesitate to write whatever he felt like when he believed he was correct. Although it was the organization's newspaper, he had no qualms about expressing his own critical opinions of the Ironworkers' Union, the Japan Railways Society for the Correction of Abuses (Nittetsu Kyôseikai), and the Printworkers' Union. As his argument with the Printworkers' Union clearly shows, Katayama's writings lacked consideration for others and at times proved to be obstructive to Kiseikai's activities. It is well-known that without consulting anyone else, he started the column "Socialism" which contravened the public position of Rôdô Kumiai Kiseiaki, and after printing the critical piece by Kiseikai (A Warning to Labor World) on page seven, printed his own response to it with an article double the length in the next issue of the newspaper at the top of page one. As the editor of an organizational newspaper, Katayama lacked impartiality, though this should not be held against him unduly as it was an age when no-one had any experience of editing the newspaper of a campaigning organization.

The officials of the Ironworkers' Union

Soon after its inaugural ceremony, the Ironworkers' Union held a 'general meeting of head office committee' and selected its union officials. 'Head office committee correspond to today's unions' central committee; from each branch one delegate was chosen to represent around 50 members, two for around 100 members, to which one delegate would be added for every extra 50 members.
   In this first election of the union's officials, Fusatarô was appointed a 'member of the head office council' (honbu sanjikaiin). 'Head office council' was an executive body of the head office committee; it was, so to speak, the central executive committee. The size of the council was later increased to 11 members but at first it was made up of 5 members, including Fusatarô. The other members elected to the head office council included Katayama in his capacity as secretary of Kiseikai, and the three head office departmental managers - the accounts manager, the welfare manager, and the general manager. Elected as the first accounts manager was Nagayama Eiji, who worked in the small arms foundry at the Tokyo Arsenal, while the first elected welfare manager was Ôe Matsuzô, who worked at the Nakajima Yard. The illustrations in The Labor Movement in Japan show Nagayama Eji to have been quite old so he must have been an experienced worker of senior rank.
    It proved difficult to elect a general manager, and at first there was none, but a little later, Hirai Umegoro, a foreman at the Yokohama Shipyard was elected. However, only a month afterwards, he was forced by the company to quit the union, and in his stead the newly elected union general manager was Morita Chôkichi, a member of the union's No.3 branch and a foreman at No. 161 Engineering Works in Yokohama.
    Provision was also created for another official to serve the union, namely, the Chairman of the Council, who was elected from among the three managers (accounts, welfare, and general). This post was at first empty, but was filled at the committee members' general meeting in June 1898, when Ozawa Benzô of Ishikawajima Shipyard, who had been elected welfare manager, was chosen.

At the same time as the council members, six men were elected to serve as head office accounts staff, twelve as welfare staff and thirteen as general staff. Each group had its own departmental head. This threefold structure of union officials - accounts staff, welfare staff, general staff - did not only apply at the head office; it was replicated at each branch. In the branches, those elected were the 'head office members' and a secretary, who played the role of branch chairman. The number of officials depended on the size of the branch. The fact that each branch had its welfare staff shows the importance that the Ironworkers' Union placed on the provision of welfare and mutual aid. At the time of its founding, the Ironworkers' Union had 13 branches and 1,183 members. The workplaces that provided the organizational bases for the branches and the numbers of members in each branch on December 1, 1897 are as follows:
Table 1.   The Branches of the Ironworkers' Union
Branch  NoWorkplace (org. base)No. of  members
No. 1Tokyo Arsenal small arms finishing workshop189
No. 2Japan Railways Oomiya Yard 53
No. 3Yokohama Shipyards185
No. 4Ministry of Posts and Telegraphy Lightouse Equipment workshop 49
No. 5Tokyo Arsenal small arms manufacturing workshop163
No. 6Factories in the Honjo area 136
No. 7Tokyo Arsenal small arms repair workshop108
No. 8Tokyo Arsenal small arms assembly workshop 69
No. 9Tokyo Arsenal small arms casting workshop 41
No.10 Tokyo Arsenal rifle casting workshop 64
No.11 Tokyo Arsenal rifle equipment casting workshop 43
No.12 Shimbashi Railyard foundry 51
No.13 Shimbashi Railyard turning workshop 35
Table 2. New Branches of the Ironworkers' Union in 1898

Further, there were six members who were railway workers at Kôbu Railways, the forerunner of today's Japan Railways, although it is unclear to which branch they belonged.

The most noteworthy feature of the above table is the the huge proportion of the Tokyo Arsenal workers. With seven branches and 677 members, they accounted for half the total number of both branches and members. We have already discussed the Arsenal itself. It was located on the site of the former Mito clan's official residence at Edo. Surrounded by a high fence and brick-built walls, it was a huge area extending over 330,000㎡ from today's Tokyo Dome and Koishikawa Kôrakuen in Suidobashi to Kasugachô and part of the Chuô University Kôrakuen campus.

The union's No.2 Branch, located at Japan Railways' Ômiya Yard, was the factory that produced the main rolling stock for Japan Railways. Despite pressure from the management, the branch grew to become the strongest in the union.

No. 3 Branch and No.6 Branch were both outside of Tokyo. The Yokohama branch organized metalworkers who worked on ship repairs. Whereas other branches were based at single workplaces, these two branches organized workers employed at various locations. Details for No.3 Branch are unknown, but the names of the workplaces where No. 6 Branch members were employed and their numbers are as follows: 43 worked at the Hiraoka factory in Kinshichô, Honjo ward, known for its manufacture of railway carriages; 53 worked at the Nagashima Works in Sotodechô, Honjo ward, which produced machine tooks; 14 were employed at the Takeuchi Safe Company in Minami-Futabachô, Honjo ward, making safes and strong boxes; 15 were employees at the Tokyo Spinning Works at Higashidaikuchô, Fukagawa ward, and 11 worked at the Hara Ironworks. All year-round, unpaid service

The union had its five council members but only one, Takano Fusatarô, was engaged in daily work for the union. Katayama was the head of the Kingsley Hall and also editor-in-chief of The Labor World, and the other union council members were all workers, who could not just take time off when they felt like it. Even the accounts manager was only able to be at the union head office once a month.
    But Fusatarô was not only an Ironworkers' Union council member; he also had his responsibilities as chief secretary of Rôdôkumiai Kiseikai. The great majority of Kiseikai members, however, were ironworkers, so the two posts were inseparable. The campaign activities of the Ironworkers' Union were also those of Kiseikai. Moreover, the head office of both organizations was in the same rented rooms at the Yanagiya inn, so Fusatarô's daily commute from his mother's house in Hongo to Gofukuchô remained exactly the same.
    It was nevertheless the case that with the foundation of the Ironworkers' Union, Fusatarô's workload rapidly grew. The number of meetings of various kinds more than doubled. There was a stream of visits to the office by Kiseikai members and Ironworkers' Union branch officials asking for advice. To cope with this situation Fusatarô had his office hours printed in The Labor World. These were only in the afternoons, but every afternoon, seven days a week, all year round:

Office hours of the Union secretary are as follows (in the case of changes, notifcation will be given)

      Sun. Mon. Tues. Wed. Thurs. 1.30 pm - 6.30 pm
      Fri. Sat. 1.00 pm - 5.00 pm

Jan. 10
                                              Rôdôkumiai Kiseikai Office

His appearances as a speaker at public meetings increased considerably; besides Tokyo and Yokohama, locations extended to Yokosuka, the location of the Navy Arsenal, and the prefectures of the Tôhoku region, where Japan Railways had its rolling stock factories. Unfortunately, there are no entries in Fusatarô's diary for 1897, so we cannot compare his workload for that year with other years, but it is nevertheless clear that he was extremely busy, as the first sentences of his letters to Gompers at this time invariably attest. For example, the letter of August 23 1898 begins

Dear Sir,
    Please pardon my negligence of not writing you for so long a time.   Since the formation of Iron Workers Union I was & am besieged with great volumes of work so that my time is wholly taken by them.

Such was the situation, and it was impossible for Fusatarô alone to handle all the affairs of both Kiseikai and the Ironworkers' Union, so a secretary was employed to help him, who likely dealt with the office work relating to finance. From the founding of the Ironworkers' Union, all the office costs of the two organizations, including the secretary's salary, were split evenly between the two bodies.

Activists under surveillance

In addition to all his busy duties, Fusataroo had other worries at this time. One was his livelihood. He was not paid for his services to Kiseikai and the Union, but although he was so busy, he still had to earn a living. His expenditure had also increased. We shall return to this topic later.

The second problem was more unpleasant. From around the time of the founding of Kiseikai, the police had begin to identify him as "a subject requiring surveillance" - someone to keep an eye on (yô chui jinbutsu). To begin with, this simply meant a policeman in civilian clothes attended public meetings, but gradually, the degree of surveillance was stepped up to the point where the movement was beginning to come under continuous obstruction. The main activists were regularly tailed by uniformed officers, while detectives visited their homes to check their identity. Eventually, large numbers of uniformed officers were sent to public meetings, intimidating the audiences and quietly pressuring the hall owners to stop letting out their premises for public meetings to Kiseikai and the Union. Activists were then required to submit to the authorities lists of participants at the meetings.
    These activities by the police were not at all reported, either by The Labor World nor in other Japanese newspapers and magazines at that time. It was probably felt at The Labor World that it would prevent union members becoming anxious about the movement and also avoid more suspicion and hostility from the side of the police. In his reports to America, where such concerns were not a problem, Fusatarô described concretely the repressive measures taken by the authorities in Japan. A report of his, written on January 17, 1898, soon after the founding of the union and published in the AFL newpaper, included the following:

    It was in the evening of June 25, 1897, when a public meeting was held with the sole purpose of essaying that grand cause of labor and took the ever sensitive police authorities of this capital city with surprise. Habituated as the police authorities were to slight workingmen, they never dreamed that workers of this country are capable of inaugurating and carrying on any systematic effort as represented by the labor movement. Nor did they ever suppose that the cause of labor is able to command hearty support of such well-known public men as Messrs. Saburo Shimada, vice-president of the Lower House of the Diet, and Teiichi Sakuma, the well-known capitalist.
    Amid their innocent slumbering, as it were, there suddenly came the public announcement of a mass meeting with many well-known public men as the speakers of the evening. Truly, it was a complete surprise to those who took the meeting as the first sign of approaching violence on the part of the working people. Uncalled-for gravity was thus given to the meeting, and unnecessary precautions were taken by them. Scores of secret service men were dispatched to the meeting room. But, contrary to their expectations, there never assembled such an orderly crowd of working people as the audience of that meeting.
    Furthermore, no inflammatory remarks were uttered by the speakers. Far from that, every speaker counseled the audience as well as workingmen in general to restrain from any violent action but go ahead with the formation of trade unions. And, strange to the police, these moderate counselings met with an enthusiastic reception from the audience. Disappointed and puzzled as they were, they were not yet ready to give up their suspicion and straightway they instituted a close watch on those who were instrumental in bringing the meeting into consummation. Private residences of the leaders were made objects of frequent calls of detectives. Their past records were secretly investigated. Their daily movements were closely followed as if they were suspected criminals. The peaceful home life of the leaders was ruthlessly disturbed and their woeful tales thus commenced. However, the authorities have again failed to find in this direction any pretext to crush the movement. Their next move was toward obstructive tactics for the successful consummation of meetings and covert threats against those who joined the movement.
    At one time, uniformed police were stationed in our meeting, under the cover of preserving order in the meeting room, but in reality, to overawe attending workingmen, and at the same time to watch the utterances of speakers. At another time they covertly forbade the renting of a hall for our meeting. On another occasion they demanded all the names of those who joined the movement, which was meant to scare the enrolled members away from the movement.
    Despite all these, no disturbing elements of public peace were discovered in our movement, and their only reward was making the lives of the leaders more miserable.

From the tightening of police surveillance and its obstructive behavior, Fusatarô had a clear premonition of the difficulties the movement would face in the years ahead.

A substantial year

January 1898 saw Fusatarô's 29th birthday. This year, which brought his twenties to a close, was the most substantial year of his whole life, both in the personal and the public sense. The most important event in his private life in that year was his marriage, but we shall return to that later.

At the end of the previous year, following on from the Japanese-English Dictionary (Wa-Ei Jiten), which he had compiled with his brother and others, on January 6 English-Japanese Business Conversation (Ei-wa shôgyô kaiwa), which he had written by himself, was published by ÔKura Shoten. The book was laid out in a new, conversational format. The style is normal in English conversation textbooks in Japan today, but it was Fusatarô who came up with the idea for it. He writes about the process in his diary:

    The weak point of conversation books today is that they are not organized in a question and answer format. It would be good if they were laid out like the script of a western-style play. It would be good to present the conversations a man would have to have who seeks to travel to America, conversations at the steamship company, with fellow passengers on board ship, conversations at mealtimes and in shops.

Moreover, and this also relates to his public activity, Fusatarô was sending regular monthly 'reports from Japan' to American labor newspapers, which supported his livelihood. All his reports have been reproduced on this website as Takano Papers.
    On the organizational front, he continued to put his energies into expanding the activities of Kiseikai and the Ironworkers' Union, and with great results. Throughout the year, he gave speeches at public meetings in Tokyo, Yokohama, Yokosuka and in various places in the Keihin area, and in the summer went on a speaking tour in the Tôhoku region of northern Japan. In the autumn he took an energetic part in the campaign to revise the Factory Bill and at the end of the year founded the Ironworkers' Consumer Cooperatives. He focused on the cooperative movement and continued to play an energetic role in it.

At this point, of all of Fusatarô's various activities, let us concentrate on the one into which he put his greatest efforts - the development of the Ironworkers' Union. The union, which at the time of its founding at the end of 1897 had 1,183 members, continued to make very steady progress in its expansion throughout 1898. New branches were added every month, and about halfway through the year, there were 2,500 members, more than twice the number at the union's founding. By the end of 1898 the union had grown to the number of 32 branches and 2,717 members. This was not a time like that after World War II, when all workers at one workplace would belong to one universal workplace union and union dues were docked from workers' wages. In 1898 workers had to be persuaded individually to join the union; members paid their entrance fee individually, and the union had to collect its dues every month from each individual member. The names of the new branches founded in the year 1898 and the names of the companies where the new branches were based are shown below:

New Branches of the Ironworkers' Union in 1898
Branch  NoWorkplace (org. base)Date of founding
No.14Shibaura WorksFeb. 11
No.15Shimbashi Railways Works Finishing Yard Feb. 11
No.16Ishikawajima Shipyard wrought iron section March 1
No.17Yokosuka Navy ArsenalMarch 3
No.18Kôbu Railroad Company Works1March 13
No.19Tokyo Arsenal Rifle Parts Workshop1March 20
No.20Ishikawajima ShipyardApril 24
No.21Ishikawajima Shipyard Wrought iron sectionMay 1
No.22Akabane Navy ArsenalMay 10
No.23 Japan Railways Fukushima, Kuroiso, SendaiMay 25
No.24 Tokyo Bay Steamship CompanyJuly 9
No.25Japan Railways Aomori WorksAug. 5
No.26Japan Railways Morioka WorksAug. 6
No.27Tokyo Arsenal Rifle Parts WorkshopAug. 13
No.28Tokyo Arsenal small arms turning workshopOctober
No.29Hokkaidô Public Railroad Works (Takigawa)October
No.30Tokyo Arsenal Rifle stock workshopOctober
No.31Ishikawajima Shipyard Rolling Stock WorksOctober
No.32Ishikawajima Shipyard (Finishing Yard)October

We have already seen the branches that existed at the time of the union's founding in December 1897. Comparison of the two tables, December 1897 and 1898 shows clearly that the 13 branches at the end of 1897 had been augmented by a further 19 branches, making a total of 32 braches by the end of 1898. As usual, the Tokyo Arsenal was the main base for the new branches; there were 10 there in December 1898. The Arsenal branches shared a common office at the Jôhoku region joint branch at Kanda-Misakichô, from where they not only gathered union dues but provided a job-hunting service for ironworkers, set up a cooperative shop, collected contributions and donations for branch members who had suffered in disasters of one kind or other and functioned energetically as a body facilitating cohesion among the branches at the Arsenal.

Another conspicuous achievement was the successful unionization of the 4,000 employees at the Yokosuka Navy Arsenal, second only to the Army Arsenal in the Kanto region in the scale of its metal-workshops. At the time of the union's founding, the level of unionization, at only about 250, had not been so great. Also, at Japan's first privately-owned, western-style factory, Ishikawajima Shipyard, five new branches were established. Over 600 men were employed at Ishikawajima Shipyard, so the scale was smaller than at the two arsenals, but the level of unionization was higher. Other successes were at the Shibaura Works, the Shimbashi Railways Works, the Japan Railways Works and the main engineering works in eastern Japan.

Labor is Sacred ? the reasons for ironworkers' participation

Shibaura Works, upper:ironworkers, below wooden pattern makers

Why then was it ironworkers and among them, Tokyo Arsenal workers, who responded in such overwhelming numbers to the call from Fusatarô and his comrades?   The question is difficult and not really a suitable one to be addressed in a biography. It is not enough only to explain why ironworkers joined the movement; one has to be able to answer the question as to why other workers did not choose to join if one is to produce a serious research paper. To come to a real evaluation of Takano Fusatarô's achievements, however, these are questions that cannot be bypassed. We shall commence with the first one.

It used to be the case that in seeking the reasons for the emergence of labor unions, labor historians tended to ascribe them to economic deprivation. They would emphasize workers' poor working conditions as the causal factor and that in order to ameliorate such bad conditions, workers banded together in unions. However, this view stemmed from a certain fixed idea that labor unions were organizations for workers to sell their labor, and when one looks at the actual growth process of individual unions, one finds that this concept does not apply in numerous cases. Nor does this interpretation fit the case of the Ironworkers' Union. In fact, those who took the initiative in Kiseikai and the Ironworkers' Union, those who participated actively and became the key campaigners were men who were earning high wages compared to most other workers.
    For example, Muramatsu Tamitarô, who visited Fusatarô right after the founding meeting of Kiseikai and who became its secretary, was a foreman at the Tokyo Arsenal on a daily wage of more than 1 yen a day. Mamie Kintarô and Matsuda Ichitarô, who became Kiseikai standing committee members, frequently contributed 30 sen or 1 yen - no mean sum in those days - towards the expenses for public meetings. Hirai Umegorô, appointed the union's first general manager, was a foreman (shokuchô) at the Yokohama Dock and contributed 3 yen towards the costs of the opening ceremony. Morita Chôkichi, who followed Hirai as general manager, was a foreman at the No. 161 Iron Workshop in Yokohama and was "a powerful man with many workers under him who was treated by his comrades as a gang boss (oyabun). Ozawa Benzô, the union's welfare manager who was also elected chairman of the council, the union's representative body, was a highly paid man who paid direct national taxes of over 15 yen a year. In short, the union's leading activists and officials were very well-paid workers.

So why did such relatively highly paid 'senior workers' participate so actively in Kiseikai and the Ironworkers' Union?   The main reason was their 'anger at discrimination against workers'. Their workplaces had started operating around the end of the feudal period (the 1860s - 70s) and were at that time unfamiliar to Japanese. Factory work was an occupation people were forced to take when they had no other means of supporting themselves and it had very low social status in comparison with traditional artisans' occupations such as carpentry or plastering. 'Factory laborers' (shokkô) were thus looked down on as being one level lower than everyone else in society. One can sense their feeling of inferiority from the fact that they never referred to themselves by the term shokkô (factory laborers) that others used for them but always as shokunin (artisan, craftsman).
    Not only were they looked down on by the rest of society, they were also discriminated against in their workplaces. They were not recognized as 'regular employees' and were treated as 'manpower', a resource like natural materials. For example, the '11th Annual Statistical Report of the Ministry of the Army', which collated statistics for 1897, recorded the Tokyo Arsenal 'employees' (shokuin) as military personnel 65 persons and army auxiliaries 193 individuals, yet the workers who toiled there were recorded total of 1,601,855 man-days over the course of the year. The same treatment can be seen in the History of the Yokosuka Navy Yard (Yokosuka kaigun senshôshi). This was not just a matter of the technical ways in which statistics were recorded; it reflected the state of human relations at the workplace.

Those who had direct supervision of workers at military arsenals were the workshop chiefs who had the status of technicians. An arsenal would consist of 50-60 separate workshops, each of which would have its own workshop chief. These men were chosen from the graduates of arsenal technical schools that had been set up alongside the army arsenals. These arsenal schools were run on a three-year program and according to regulations, were supposedly open to anyone who had graduated from elementary school (shôgakkô) but in fact, only serving soldiers were accepted. Workers bitterly resented the fact that whereas they had the same level of elementary school education as the workshop chiefs, the status of the latter was higher simply because they had been to an arsenal technical school.
    Yokoyama Gen'nosuke describes the relations between the two groups as follows:

    Relations between the workshop chiefs and the laborers (shokkô) were always difficult. The chiefs received their instructions from supervisors and were charged with overseeing directly the work of the laborers and they were obviously supposed to be skilled in technical matters, but in fact, those who had only recently graduated from the arsenal technical school were proud of the little they had learned at school and tried to use their authority as overseers to put pressure on the laborers, and this roused the laborers' indignation. Although the two groups should have tried to get along with each other, in every workshop, while laborers would seem on the surface to be obeying orders, in fact, relations between them were like those between dogs and wolves - really bad....it is unreasonable to expect that there would be no clashes between soldiers, who had normally only been to elementary school and who, after only three years of a special education, could be so haughty in their treatment of the workers under them, and those workers, who were so proud of the skills they had acquired in over 15-20 years of near sacred service. The workers would gossip darkly among themselves, saying things about the workshop chiefs like "You think anyone's going to say 'yes sir, no sir' after listening to some young fellow just out of the army making out like he knows everything and ordering everyone around?" In extreme cases one of them would even be chosen to help the workshop chief run the workshop as an assistant, or they would laugh at the chief's unreasonable behavior behind his back. [Sensô to rôdô shakai (War and the labor society].

Technicians (gite) had military status but were low-level overseers and at the arsenal belonged to the lowest-ranking army officers. As soldiers, they were accustomed to being constantly ordered about and turned their resentment at this towards the workers under them. Yokoyama has the following to say about the supervisors (joyaku) who were also in positions over the workers.
    To supervise the workers, foremen were chosen from among those workers who had worked for many years. However, this was no more than a job helping out the workshop chiefs. They had no power over the workers. All authority to direct and supervise the workers was in the hands of the workshop chiefs.
    In other words, the 'supervisers had no authority at all; they were no more than assistants to the workshop chiefs. This was not unrelated to why a man like Muramatsu Tamitarô took the initiative to join Kiseikai and the Ironworkers' Union.

Industrial workers also greatly resented the degree to which they were managed in accordance with so many rules and regulations. The workplaces where union members were employed were all large enterprises such as the arsenals, and as they were so large, rules were obviously needed to manage so many employees. These rules were enforced by means of fines, penalties and dismissals, and behind the power of the workshop chiefs in charge of the workers at the arsenals were these punitive regulations. How far these regulations were actually applied is not known, but their oppressive character is clearly discernible from figures in the 'Annual Statistical Report of the Ministry of the Army (Rikugunshô tôkei nenpô). In the 'operational income' columns for the year 1897 'fines and forfeitures' accounted for 3,111 yen and 35 sen, and penalties for as much as 17,673 yen.

One clear sign of the workplace discrimination that workers were subject to was in their lunchboxes. The arsenals did not allow men to bring their own lunchboxes to work; all employees were forced to buy their lunches from commissioned suppliers. The discrimination that this entailed between workers and their supervisers was one cause of their rancor. The fiftieth issue of The Labor World carried an article titled "The Arsenal is tuberculosis factory":

    There are three kinds of lunchboxes in the Tokyo arsenal, A, B, and C. The A type cost 12 sen and are available only to officials; they are out of bounds for workers. The B type cost 6 sen and the C type 3 sen. Workers eat the C type lunch. In fact, the C lunch for the officials and the C lunch for the workers are made up differently. Officials get the better quality ingredients while workers are given lower grade; rice with some husks etc... Lunchboxes for the 10,000 workers are made up at the arsnal and most of them consist of little more than cold rice. Thus, these miserable, dirty lunchboxes spread tuberculosis and other diseases. With the compulsion and pressure they are under, workers have no option but to buy the wretched contents of these unhygienic lunchboxes. They are not allowed to bring in their own lunchboxes.

The situation was the same in privately owned companies, as was attested by Masumoto Uhei, a technician at the Mitsubishi shipyard in Nagasaki, a delegate at the first conference of the International Labor Organization (ILO).

    No-one would want the life of an industrial worker (shokkô). In the eyes of society at large, industrial workers are less than normal people and are thought of like cows or horses. Although they think they can do nothing about their own situation, even if they themselves drop to the level of beggars, they don't want their children to become factory workers. This feeling has predominated in Japan in recent years.Take the Mitsubishi Shipyard at Nagasaki, for example, with its affiliated school supposed to be for educating workers. The feeling among the workforce there about educating workers was that one generation of the family in factory work was quite enough thank you very much, and that there were no parents in the world who were stupid enough to send their children to school in order to become factory workers. This is how people felt in the shipyard about schools to train workers in the time before the Russo-Japanese War. (Rôshi kaihôron [Workers' Liberation])

This anger against discrimination was felt less by those workers who had just been hired; rather, it had built up among those of long experience at work and who were relatively well-paid, so-called 'senior workers'. It was only natural that they should have thought of aiming to break out of their present situation and seek to improve workers' social status.
    Especially among workers at the arsenals, there were those who had been conscripted to fight in the Sino-Japanese War, who now earned a good wage, were regarded highly as key workers on account of their war record and had even won decorations for their war service. Muramatsu Tamitarô seems to have been one of them. To have been through such experiences of war and then to return again to experience discrimination at work and in society must have been intolerable. The words "labor is sacred" which rang out in A Call to All Workers (Shokkô shokun ni yosu) struck a deep chord with these men. "Workers are human beings too. Without their labor, this society would not be what it is. Let them respect themselves and join in solidarity!" This call had spoken to them and resolved them to join the union. Takano Fusatarô's namecard, front and back. His title refers to his position as AFL organizer On the back of his namecard Fusatarô had the following words printed :

    Labor is sacred, union is strength. You who are engaged in such sacred labor, will you not combine together? Is there anyone in society to whom this does not apply? Workers of Japan need do only this - join together and form unions!

The original book in Japanese
    This is the English translation of the book   Rôdô wa shinsei nari ketsugô wa seiryoku nari; Takano Fusatarô to sono jidai,(Iwanami Shoten Publishers, 2008.), The first half of the Chapter 10   Tekkokumiai no tanjo

Translated by Terry Boardman

   This file was last modified on:
November 18, 2014.

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