The earliest data currently available on wage levels at Ashio are from two Ashio management annual reports of 1883 and 1884. Both are included in "The Life of Furukawa Junkichi" and list the numbers of management staff for the years 1883 and 1884 and their salary levels. They also group the workforce into three categories - miners, refinery workers, and laborers - and list their numbers and average daily wage levels (see table 5). As these three categories are clearly too broad, care needs to be taken in comparing the data with figures for other years. The term 'miners', for example, appears to refer not only to faceworkers and pit blasters, but to all underground workers. Comparison with other records which give a more detailed break down of the Ashio workforce in that period reveals that the numbers of 'miners' given in the two surveys are excessive and must have included hauliers and carriers. The wage levels shown in table 5 must therefore must have been lower than those received by 'miners' in the strict sense of the term, namely, faceworkers (ore extractors) and pit blasters.
|Number of people||monthly earning||daily wage||Number of people||monthly earning||daily wage|
|Staff||51||13 yen 54 sen||(50 sen 1 rin)||112||10 yen 00 sen||(37 sen )|
|Miners||415||(12 yen 60 sen )||52 sen 5 rin||1,012||(10 yen 92 sen )||45 sen 5 rin|
|Refinerymen||202||(12 yen 28 sen 5 rin)||45 sen 5 rin||539||(11 yen 47 sen 5 rin)||42 sen 5 rin|
|laborer||458||(7 yen 64 sen 1 rin)||28 sen 3 rin||1,516||(6 yen 07 sen 5 rin)||22 sen 5 rin|
What then were the actual wage levels of miners proper? Let us first attempt to put together a more detailed break down of the comprehensive category of 'miners' which the "Ashio Mine Annual Report" employed and then use this to estimate actual miners' wage levels. Fortunately, records giving a comparatively detailed break down of the workforce for the two years in question have survived. Figures for 1883 were included in 'The Ashio Copper Mine'(3), an article which appeared in the first issue of "The Mining Industry Journal". At the beginning of winter that year there were 330 miners, 158 carriers (men who removed earth and debris underground), and 18 carters (underground truck haulers), a total of 506 workers. If these figures are applied to the 415 'miners' of the "Ashio Mine Annual Report", the result is 271 miners, 129 hauliers, and 15 carters. Underground laborers such as hauliers and carters received slightly higher daily wages than other, general,laborers who that year were on an average daily rate of 28 sen 3 rin per day. The rate for underground laborers must therefore have been around 30, at the most, 35 sen a day. If the rate for underground laborers is assumed to have been 30 sen, then the average daily rate for miners must have been 64 sen 5 rin; if 35 sen, then miners must have been on an average of 62 sen 1 rin. Let us assume the latter figure, although it is probably slightly on the low side.
Figures for 1884 are available from 'The Ashio Copper Mine'(4), a report by O^hara Junnosuke, an engineer attached to the Mining Department of the Ministry of Agriculture and Commerce, who visited Ashio in August that year. O^hara reports a total of 1100 underground workers in late August: 750 miners, 50 shorers, and 300 hauliers. If these figures are compared with the 1012 'miners' of the "Ashio Mine Annual Report", the result is:690 miners, 46 shorers, and 276 hauliers. The wage rate for general laborers that year was 22 sen 5 rin; hauliers must therefore have been on a rate of between 25 to 30 sen a day. If their rate was 25, then the average for miners and shorers must have been 53 sen 2 rin, and if 30, then the rate for miners and shorers must have been 51 sen 3 rin. The figures of 53 sen 2 rin for miners and shorers, and 25 sen for hauliers are not very different from the figures O^hara himself gives: 50 sen average daily rate for miners, and 20 sen for hauliers.
Further financial data relating to Ashio in the 1880s can be found in the "Sato^ family documents"(5) in the archives of the Utsunomiya Prefectural Library, some of which are also mentioned in "The History of Tochigi Prefecture (Historical Documents Modern 9)". Here it is stated that in 1883 pit blasters were on the very high rate of 1 yen 27 sen a day, and even in 1885, were on 86.25 sen a day. These were budgetary figures, which probably differed somewhat from the wages paid out. The actual wage levels are not recorded in "The History of Tochigi Prefecture", but are shown in the "Record of Average Total Purchases of Ore in the Eight Months from January to August 1886", included in the same 'Sato^ family documents'. These give the amounts of ore bought by Furukawa during this period, the prices paid, and the total number of miners involved in the production of the ore. The Record reveals that the actual average wage paid to the individual miner in 1886 was 40 sen 4 rin 8 mo^ (1/10th of a rin) for standard ore and 11 sen 8 rin 1 mo^ for non-standard ore, a total of 52 sen 2 rin 9 mo^(6).
The figures given in the "Ashio Mine Annual Report" for refinery workers are as problematic as those for miners. O^hara Junnosuke gives a total of 374 refinery workers: 60 blast furnace operators, 90 bellows operators, 54 traditional kiln workers, 70 temperers, and 100 ore dressers. It thus appears that the figure of 539 'refinerymen' given in the "1884 Ashio Mine Annual Report" included not only refinery workers, but also temperers, ore dressers and even laborers associated with the refining process. It is hardly surprising then that the survey gives a very low rate for refinery workers proper. We shall return to this point later.
How well were Ashio mineworkers paid compared to workers in other industries? Table 6 shows average daily wage levels in state-operated factories and yards, while table 7 and Table 8 show those of carpenters, masons, metalworkers, and day laborers. These provide suitable comparison, because the state-operated enterprises were large concerns comparable in scale to Ashio, while carpenters, masons, and metalworkers are representative of highly paid craftsmen of the period. Moreover, in the nature of their work and in the kind of training necessary to master it, masons had much in common with miners, carpenters with shorers and mine building workers, and metalworkers with mineworkers who repaired machinery and chisels. Day laborers, of course, can be compared with the various kinds of unskilled mine laborers, who hauled ore, earth, and timber. Furthermore, table 8 compares conditions in Tokyo with those in Toyama Prefecture. The big city of Tokyo, not so far distant from Ashio, could well have been regarded by the Ashio management as a rival source of employment which threatened to draw away their workers, while Toyama Prefecture was the main source of Ashio's supply of miners.
|name of enterprise||1884||1885||1886||1887||1888|
|Mint||39 sen||39 sen||40 sen||41 sen||34 sen|
|Printing works||32 sen||34 sen||29 sen||30 sen||35 sen|
|Tokyo army arsenal||63 sen||52 sen||44 sen||45 sen||38 sen|
|Osaka army arsenal||33 sen||33 sen||37 sen||32 sen||52 sen|
|Senju^ cloth factory||21 sen||25 sen||27 sen||31 sen||29 sen|
|Yokosuka shipbuilding yard||30 sen||31 sen||31 sen||31 sen||31 sen|
|Onohama shipbuilding yard||39 sen||30 sen||32 sen||34 sen||33 sen|
|Ordnance factory||38 sen||38 sen||41 sen||40 sen||40 sen|
|Explosives factories||34 sen||35 sen||36 sen||35 sen||36 sen|
|Tomioka silk mill||29 sen||28 sen||24 sen||25 sen||23 sen|
[Source] "The 9th Annual Statistical Bulletin of the Japanese Empire" pp.139-141
|name of trade||wage grade||1882||1883||1884||1885||1886||1887|
|black smith||1st class||40.3||35.5||21.5||28.2||26.5||27.1|
|day laborers||1st class||26.9||23.0||18.3||19.9||19.2||19.3|
1) "The 9th Annual Statistical Bulletin of the Japanese Empire" pp.173-5
2) These figures for a day's wage including meals are from the annual end-of-year survey.
3) Figures for 1884 show the average of the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd class wages given in local government statistical records.
[Notes] The 5th, 6th, and 7th Annual Statistical Bulletins of the Japanese Empire
It is clear that the wages of Ashio workers were considerably higher than most other Japanese workers in the 1880s. The only other workers in the same league were those at the Tokyo Army Arsenal and Tokyo stonemasons.
In any consideration of working conditions the number of hours worked is as important as the wages earned, and here too, Ashio workers were in a more favorable position than other Japanese workers. Ashio miners worked four shifts of six hours each; shorers and hauliers worked three shifts of eight hours each, and surface workers such as ore-dressers worked ten hours(7). The miners' six hours compared favorably with the fixed ten-hour-day worked by carpenters, masons, and metalworkers and the eight to ten hours worked by employees in state-owned factories. The conventional view of mine work, whether in metal or coal mines, has tended to associate it with the long hours and low pay considered to be typical of male, unskilled, manual labor(8), but this view is clearly contradicted by the high wages and short working hours of Ashio miners. The relevant documentation seems to be trustworthy, as it is all from the management side and does not make any extravagant claims for the working conditions at Ashio. Nevertheless, let us consider some other source material which describes conditions at Ashio in the 1880s.
Volume 14 of the 1884 "Report on the Promotion of Industry in Tochigi Prefecture" is entitled "The Ashio Copper Mine"(9), and contains the following:
Miners are to work six hours and receive an average wage of 50 sen, their apprentices are to receive 20 sen, refinery workers 50 sen, and other workforce from 25 to 30 sen.
Also, "The Ashio Copper Mine" by Ohara Junnosuke records wages for each type of worker in August 1884 as follows(10)
Miners wages (6 hours) Average 50 sen
Hauliers wages Average 20 sen
Ore dressers wages Average 25 sen
Smelters wages Average 20 sen
Refinery workers wages 1st class 50 sen
2nd class 30 sen
3rd class 25 sen.
Both of these reports by impartial observers agree with the figures contained in the "Ashio Mine Annual Reports", although the round figures of 20, 30, and 50 sen probably do not represent the average actually received by each worker, but rather the value of the prescribed 'standard wage'. It might well be argued that these reports do not add up to much since the fact that the various figures agree is hardly surprising; after all, the Tochigi Prefecture officials and Ohara Junnosuke probably got their data from the Furukawa Company's Ashio Mine Office. In that sense, the following account from an Ashio worker deserves serious attention. It comes from no less a source than "A Miner's Life", the autobiography of Nagaoka Tsuruzo^, who was prosecuted as a ringleader of the Ashio riot. From February 1884 he was working as a miner at Furukawa Ichibei's Kusakura copper mine and he writes of that period:(11)
"Miners who worked a six hour day were known as kengiri and were paid a certain amount per area of face worked. Some worked a four hour day, and when work went fast in a particular area, the day was divided in six shifts. Ore extractors worked for two periods of three and a half hours each in the morning and afternoon. A four hour day is the most suitable for a miner. After four hours a miner is not really working effectively, however long he stays underground. It takes a long time to travel to and from the face, and that time too has to be allowed for. At that time men were earning between 50 and 70 yen a month - quite a good wage, and lots of dirty loincloths and socks were frequently left lying in corners of the hanba".
The Kusakura mine was the first mine operated independently by Furukawa Ichibei after the bankruptcy of the O^nogumi, his employer's household, and it was from Kusakura that a group of miners came who formed the nucleus of the workforce with which Furukawa intended to redevelop the Ashio mine. Working conditions at Kusakura at that time were thus no doubt similar to those at Ashio. "Between 50 and 70 yen a month" seems excessive, but considering the overall reliability of "A Miner's Life" as source material, it may be that, rather than being a simple case of exaggeration, these were actually the wages earned by the highest paid workers. "A Miner's Life" also testifies to the generally high standard of miners' working conditions in the 1880s.
"Miners in those days used to be boastful fellows, because they had plenty of money. The folks who lived in the neighborhood of the mine would say,"look, those 'gold-diggers' are here again". They respected the miners and their daughters fell in love with them. They thought the miners were splendid fellows, because they wore silk clothes and had lots of money."
"Miners would spend their money wildly; they were really carefree, and did not even know the price of rice. They never ate cold rice. They were always throwing their rice bowls about, getting rice all over the place and singing all night long". When I recollect their lifestyle in those days, I think things are a good deal worse now than they were then". In those days people used to sing "look, there go the miners, their coat sleeves bulging with money". Nowadays they sing "look, they must be miners going by; they're wearing summer clothes when it's snowing!"
One feels in Nagaoka's testimony here the weight of his own experience. Neverthless, it would still be possible to question his glowing account of the miners' lifestyles at that time, arguing that he may have wanted to paint a more favorable picture of miners' conditions in the 1880s in order to contrast it with their more abject circumstances at the time of the riot.
However, the following reports from two impartial observers would seem to contradict this supposition. The first is from a newspaper article in the "Tokyo Nichinichi Shinbun" of the 23rd March 1885.
"The premier copper mine in Japan is the Ashio mine in Shimotsuke (translator's note: old name of Tochigi Prefecture): ...there are at present some 3000 miners employed at the mine. The 24 hour day is divided into four periods of six hours which the miners work in shifts. The more (ore) they dig the more they are paid; those working at the better faces can earn 7 yen a shift, while a poor day's work might earn a man 1 yen 50 sen. As a result, apart from when they are at work, all miners are well-dressed and carry gold watches, and their monthly earnings of 50 to 60 yen are comparable to those of civil servants and company officials"(12).
"Their homes may be dirty, but it would be a great mistake to assume straightaway that the miners are poor. They belong to the so-called 'rich poor', and their lifestyle includes extravagances that are simply astounding. As they are considered to be key workers, miners are generally much better remunerated than other workers, and while that might not be the case just at the present time, when the mine was at the height of prosperity, almost all the insignificant-looking miners were earning as much as engineers who had graduated from high school and enjoyed an extravagant lifetsyle; at times they lived like lords in a manner unknown to ordinary folk. The boundary which allowed miners, though they may be the poorest of the poor, to eat and drink in a way normally associated only with the rich, is indeed as different from normal boundaries as heaven is from the earth"(13).
The evidence suggests that Ashio mineworkers, especially miners and refinery workers, were earning comparatively high wages in the 1880s. We now need to discover whether these high wages and short working hours at Ashio were exceptional, or whether they were also the norm at other mines.
That Ashio was indeed not necessarily an exception we know from Nagaoka Tsuruzo^ who also worked at a number of mines in the Kansai region of central Japan and at the Kusakura mine in Niigata, but we have even clearer evidence from the Besshi copper mine on the island of Shikoku (see table 9). Miners' daily earnings showed a considerable increase from 35 sen 5 rin in 1876 to 66 sen 3 rin in 1881 when they were almost double the level of wages of other workers. The yearly increases at Besshi over that period certainly stand comparison with Ashio.
|Rice 1 koku(=5.119 bushels)||539.9||493.2||624.6||739.9||981.2||927.9||788.2||525.6||522.6||578.6|
[Notes] "The Japan Labor Management Yearbook" 1st ed. Part 1 p. 120
|Sado gold mine||Factory workers||25.1||19.4||20.0||19.9||17.3|
|Ikuno silver mine||Factory workers||36.8||20.3||20.0||15.7||16.6|
|Ani copper mine||Factory workers||40.9||26.9|
|Innai silver mine||Factory workers||51.6||30.7|
|Kosaka silver mine||Factory workers||37.8||29.3|
[Notes] "Annual Statistical Bulletin of the Japanese Empire" Nos, 2,5,6,8
This is not enough, however, to warrant the conclusion that Japanese miners in the 1880s were all highly paid. Table 10 shows that the wages of miners at state-owned mines were considerably lower than those at Ashio and Besshi.
What was the situation at other privately-owned mines? In the absence of any comprehensive national statistics for miners' wages in the 1880s, table 11 presents data from a number of mines, which was drawn from the many mine inspection reports published in the "Bulletin of the Japan Mining Industry Association". This can only be treated as a single piece of evidence, since it represents a collation of various types of figures; not only do the dates of the surveys differ, but allowances in kind and job demarkations also differed from mine to mine, and the data further include certain projected, as well as actual, wages. Table 12 shows data from the Handa silver mine in Fukushima Prefecture, which was operated by the Ko^seikan Company (owned by Godai Tomoatsu). It is a valuable record which shows changes in wage levels for 15 types of occupation over a six-year period from 1882.
|name of mine||location||year||Miners||Hauliers||Smelters||Ore temperers||Laborers||Ore-dressers(female)||Remarks|
|opening pits||ore getters|
|Kagoshima||1884||36||30||10||14 - 16||10||projected|
|Shimane||1885||20 - 30||6 - 11||25||10||4 - 20|
|Niigata||1886||44.2||18ÿýEÿýE||42||27.8||20 - 21||10 - 12||with rice and miso|
|Sumiyama||Hyogo||1886||23 - 31 class1-5|
|Shimane||1887||30 - 50||19 - 35||5 - 18||20 - 60||10 - 30||10 - 15||3 - 12|
|Shimane||1887||29 - 35||20 - 28||3.5 - 17.5||25 - 40||under 15||8 - 14||7 - 15 (male)||with rice|
(copper)(monthly pay in Yen)
|Okayama||1887||under 6||2.7-4.2||under 2||under 6.25||under 5||under 2.07||under 1||with rice and oil|
1) Yoshioka mine only: monthly wages; all others are daily figures
2) For the Arakawa mine, see "The Arakawa Mine Journal" pp.43-144
3) For the Hajima and Isa mines, see Japan Management Historical Research Center ed. "The Godai Tomoatsu Papers" Vol.3, pp. 186-187,203-206.
4) For Setagaya and the other mines, see "The Bulletin of the Japan Mining Industry Association" Nos. 13, 15, 23.
[Notes] 'The History of the Handa Silver Mine' Japan Management Historical Research Center ed. "The Godai Tomoatsu Papers" Vol.3 p.115
From these materials, the following points can be drawn concerning the main features of working conditions of metalminers in the 1880s.
(1) Together, the Ashio, Besshi, and Kusakura mines constituted a kind of 'top wage-paying league' in the 1880s. Their miners' and refinery workers' daily wages of around 50 sen were higher than the average wages of miners in other mines, higher than those of male workers in state-owned military equipment factories and yards, and higher than the piecework rates of skilled craftsmen such as carpenters and masons.
(2) The wages of miners and refinery workers at the other private mines exceeded the national average of upper level wages paid to skilled craftsmen, and were about the same level as those of male workers at government-owned military equipment factories and yards.
(3) The wage levels of miners at state-owned mines, especially those working in the Sado mines, were low. Daily averages were below those of male workers in state-owned military equipment factories and yards and were comparable with the national average of medium level wages paid to craftsmen such as carpenters, masons, and blacksmiths.
4) Mineworkers' wages peaked between 1880 and 1882, after which they showed a consistent decline. Miners' wages were particularly volatile.
What accounts for the relatively high wage levels of Ashio mineworkers, and especially those of miners and refinery workers, in the 1880s? The main reason was the surge in demand for labor which accompanied the rapid increase in the scale of operations at Ashio and Kusakura. Table 13 shows the increase in copper production at Kusakura through the late 1870s and the early 1880s and at Ashio throughout the 1880s. Production was especially vigorous from 1883 to 1885 in which year the two mines together accounted for 49% of national copper production. The 1885 production total at Ashio was 73.6 times that of 1877, while at Kusakura it was 11.1 times greater.
|production total||share||production total||share|
|1877||93.2 ton||2.4%||56.1 ton||1.4%||3,942.4 kton|
[Notes] Japan Society of Engineers ed. "A History of the Enginering Industry in the Meiji Period - Mining" collated from table 10 and table 12.
These rapid increases were made possible by the discovery at both mines of new bonanza lodes. At Ashio in 1884 connecting shafts were sunk between the Hongochi pit and the No.2 pit, thus removing the problem of poor ventilation which held back the expansion of the mine hitherto. The discovery of the new lodes and the solution of ventilation and drainage problems would not have happened without the introduction of advanced Western technology. The use of explosives, especially dynamite, enabled pits and shafts to be dug much deeper and faster than had previously been possible. However, to increase in production, it was necessary to guarantee a sufficiently large labor force, because although various new steam and water power engines were being introduced at Ashio and Kusakura at that time, their use was limited to powering ore crushers and blast furnaces; many jobs were thus still dependent on human labor.
Tables 14 and 15 show the movements in numbers of personnel at Ashio and Kusakura. The data for Kusakura come from a single source and present no problem, but the figures for Ashio have had to be collated from a number of sources, and as such, do not permit a statistical comparison. They can, however, be said to indicate, a general trend.
The first significant rise in the number of personnel was in 1884 in which year 1,712 were employed at Kusakura, 1,650 of whom were workers and the rest management staff. The total number of workers at Ashio that year was 3,067, a threefold increase over the previous year. These figures were not very large judged by today's standards, but then, at 37,460,000, the population of Japan at the time was less than a third of what it is today and 80% of the population were engaged in agriculture. It is not easy to form an accurate estimate of the total numbers working in industry, but according to the "First Statistical Tables of the Ministry of Agriculture and Commerce", the 'number of factory workers' was a mere 19,18114). At the end of 1884 the largest employers in Japan were the Naval Shipyard at Yokosuka (2,478 workers) and the Army arsenal in Tokyo (2,094 workers). By contrast, in the same year a total of 3,763 workers were employed at the five metal mines operated by the Ministry of Works: Sado, Ikuno, Ani, Innai, and Kosaka15). Clearly, the total of 4,717 workers employed at Ashio (3,067) and Kusakura (1,650) represented a major block of the nation's industrial labor force. Yet only the year before, the two mines were employing 2,416 workers; there was thus an increase of 2,301 workers in the space of just one year, and when the high labor turnover at the time is taken into consideration,(16), the number of workers hired in the space of one year actually exceeded 3000.
|staff||Underground workers||Refinery workers (female)||total|
1) Harada Shinji 'Report on the Kusakura Copper Mine' ("The Japan Society of Mining Journal" No. 15, May 1886).
2) The figures given in the original document for the years 1877 (160), 1880 (322), and 1883 (1,193) did not add up correctly and have been amended by Nimura.
1) For employee numbers in 1877, see 'Survey of New Migratory Workers' (The Furukawa Mining Company centennial publication "100 Years of the Furukawa Company") pp. 58-59. For the number of convict workers at Ashio that year, see "The Life of Furukawa Ichibei" p. 32.
2) For employee totals in 1880, see "The Life of Kimura Cho^bei", p. 46. For the numbers of miners and refinery workers in 1880 and 1881, see "The Annual Statistical Bulletin of the Japanese Empire" Nos. 2 and 3 ('Privately operated mines'. For the number of convict workers in 1881, see "The Life of Kimura Cho^bei" p. 47.
3) The figures for convict workers after 1882 are taken from "Tochigi Prefecture Statistical Records" for 1886, 1887, 1888 and represent the average number of convicts on any one day.
4) For figures for 1883 and 1884 (not including convicts, see "The Life of Furukawa Junkichi", pp.36 and 42 (the same applies for the following).
5) 1885 figures: "Report on the Industrial Development of Tochigi Prefecture" No. 27.
6) 1886 figures: "The Japanese Labor Management Yearbook" First Edition (I) p.209.
7) Employee totals for the years after 1887 are calculated from "Tochigi Prefecture Statistics." Except for 1891, the total number of man-days worked a year by male workers was 305 and by female workers, 240.
From these figures then, it would appear that the total number of workers at Ashio in 1890 was a near incredible 18,535. In the same year 10,088 workers(17) were employed at state-operated factories, and so at Ashio alone some 8,500 more workers were employed than at the 9 state-run enterprises, which included military arsenals, the Finance Ministry's Printing Works, and the Tomioka silk reeling works. This figure of 18,535 results from dividing the 5,017,640 male workers and the 500,000 female workers (total 5,517,640 workers of both sexes), given as the total number of workers at the 'Ashio Copper Plant' in the "Tochigi Prefecture Statistical Records", by the figures of 305 working days for male workers per year and 240 working days for female workers. This average number of working days is given in the "Working Conditions of Miners", and on the assumption that both men and women worked 365 days a year without rest(18), would result in the considerable figure of 15,117 workers. It would thus seem that there are grounds for suspecting that the "Tochigi Prefecture Statistical Records" are somehow in error. Since the 1891 figure of 10,188 fell to 6,138 in 1892, that suspicion would seem to be further substantiated. Given that 1890 was the final year of the bulk purchase agreement between Furukawa and the French syndicate and brokered by Jardine Matheson and was also the year of completion of 'the four major constructions'-the building of the power station and the all-steel Furukawa bridge, and the installation of the cableway and 12 water jacket furnaces - the resulting expansion of the scale of the workforce needed to handle the increased production, and also the number of workers involved in the construction operations would suggest that the high figure mentioned earlier is by no means implausible. Later, in some other documents, I discovered a remarkable discrepancy between the number of Ashio workers and the total number of working days and came to the conclusion that the error lay in the total number of working days(19). The discrepancy results from the following two factors. First, the personnel figures are based on 'regular employees' only, whereas the total number of working days includes 'temporary employment'. Second, to those with exemplary attendance various bonuses were given records in the form of extra days worked. The figure for the total number of days worked therefore closely corresponds to the actual situation, but is slightly padded out by the number of extra days awarded in the form of allowances and bonuses and should therefore be set somewhat higher than the average number of days worked by the individual worker in a year.
In any case, in order to attract such a large number of workers in a short space of time, the company must have sought to advertize itself by offering working conditions better than those available elsewhere. It certainly could not have afforded the time necessary to hire inexperienced workers and train them to the level required, for example, of a refinery worker or miner. Nationwide, the number of such skilled workers, especially refinery workers, was limited; the Ashio management must have resorted to recruiting workers from other companies by offering them high wages and travel expenses. A number of sources attest to this probability.
One is the 'The History of the Ashio Copper Mine Refinery' which mentions a lack of smelters.
"One of Furukawa's first problems after taking over the mine was the lack of workers. Although he was gradually able to attract enough miners, the mine was very short of smelters who at that time worked in the refinery. Consequently, such workers were treated very well and offered various rewards: money, food and drink; if they produced 600 kamme (2,250 kilograms) a day at the furnaces, in addition to the standard wage of 50 sen, they were given two sho^ (2.16 liters) of sake and a bundle of herrings; such bonuses were by no means unusual; indeed, they were handed out about ten times a month".
The second source is, once again, Nagaoka's "A Miner's Life". In 1884 Nagaoka moved from the Uno mine in Hyo^go Prefecture to the Kusakura mine, which was operated by Furukawa and he writes about that period as follows:
"At the time I went from mine to mine in the Bizen, Bichu^, and Mimasaka areas; I went to the Ikuno silver mine and later I was hired by Furukawa Ichibei and went from Ko^be to Yokohama on the steamship To^to^mi Maru. Furukawa Ichibei looked after his miners in those days and a company man was sent to meet us at Yokohama station. He gave us his namecard, which had on it Furukawa's name and company address in Nihombashi, put us up at an inn in Kobunecho^ and treated us to a slap-up meal. We were there three days during which time Mr Furukawa laid on a guided tour of Tokyo for us. It must have been about the 12th or 13th February 1884, when Furukawa hired several thousand skilled miners in 170 groups. The miners were happy, because Furukawa was said to know his men and would treat us well. They talked about how he gave us country bumpkins tours of Tokyo and were constantly expressing happy words of thanks. They talked of how hard and faithfully they were prepared to work to repay their obligations to him. He even helped out a number of miners who got in trouble in Yoshiwara (the redlight district in Tokyo - trans.). The miners thought of Mr Furukawa as a beneficent godlike sort of figure. I am convinced that the main reason why Mr Furukawa became the greatest mineowner in the Far East in his lifetime was because of the way he looked after his miners".
The year 1884 marked the peak of performance at Kusakura and saw a rapid rise in the number of workers at Ashio from 1075 to 3067. Nagaoka's testimony reveals how vital it was for mine managers to recruit skilled miners and also the lengths to which the company, from Furukawa Ichibei on down, was prepared to go to secure their services. Miners were recruited not only from the more distant regions of central Japan, but also from neighboring areas like To^hoku in northern Japan and Hokuriku and Gifu prefecture on the west coast. At state-owned mines, approaches were made to miners most proficient in the handling and use of explosives, whose working conditions were comparatively poor. Furukawa's poaching tactics were carried out so aggressively that they sparked a great debate in the columns of the journal of the Japanese mining industry association whose members consisted of Japan's mineowners and mining engineers.
The debate was opened by Watanabe Wataru, a university professor of engineering and acting head of the Sado Mining Office in the Department of Imperial Estates at the Imperial Household Ministry. In the No. 51 issue (May 1889) of the "Journal of the Japanese Mining Industry Association", he wrote an article entitled 'Mineowners Must Respect Proper Morality' and severely criticized 'companies which resort to the foul practice of stealing miners and enticing workers away from their proper places of employment'. Watanabe even went so far as to use the words 'pilfering rat' and specifically mentioned Furukawa's Kusakura mine. He also made five points indicating the evil consequences of headhunting. The first was 'granting excessive wage rises' and the second was 'lack of workforce stability'.
Furukawa's counterargument appeared in the following issue of the journal in the names of Aoyama Kin'ya, mine manager at Kusakura, and Suzuki Seisuke, manager at Karuizawa Mine. Aoyama claimed that labor recruiters had never been sent to Sado, he criticized Watanabe, deceitfully arguing that "people's livelihoods are not like material things that can be stolen and abducted", and emphasized that at Kusakura there were no restraints on workers' freedom of movement. Aoyama was conscious of the events of the Takashima coal mine incident the previous year which had turned into a major social problem, and he went on to criticize the treatment of miners at mines operated by the Imperial Estates Department on Sado. Suzuki attacked Watanabe by claiming that "60 miners (had been) poached" in the past by the Imperial Estates Sado Office from Furukawa's Sachiu mine, and that miners and laborers had recently been lured away from the Karuizawa mine to Sado.
The argument turned into a full-scale debate extending over several issues of the journal as Watanabe replied to his critics, Aoyama and Suzuki retaliated, and third parties joined in(21). What is clear from this debate is that labor recruiters from Kusakura had for some time been going over to the Sado gold mines, making trouble for the gang bosses there who had caught some of them and forced them to sign letters of apology, and that furthermore, the Sado Mines Office had issued a statement to the effect that "mine regulations should be amended to prevent the employment of Sado miners by other mines". There was clearly a dispute between the miners and bosses of Kusakura and those of Sado, and it was a dispute in which Kusakura, with its better working conditions, had the upper hand. Although the Sado mines sought to use the authority of the Imperial Household Ministry Estates Office to warn off other mines and tried to prevent miners from leaving by applying pressure through the oyakata, their efforts were fruitless; Watanabe's protest had been in vain.
Another participant in the debate was Kurimoto Ren of the state-owned Ikuno mine. He too testified to the poaching of miners by Ashio recruiters. According to Kurimoto, transport in and out of Ikuno was good and the miners were known for their skills, so that "there was more 'headhunting' in Ikuno than anywhere else, so much so that in the streets of Ikuno, many empty lodgings were to be seen. When investigations were carried out to discover what was going on, it was found that 8 or 9 out of 10 of the miners who had disappeared had gone to the Ashio copper mine. The same was true of miners at other mines. I myself remember the same thing happening in the Hida area"(22).
By contrast with the recruitment of skilled men such as refinery workers and miners, there were few restrictions on the recruitment of unskilled workers. However, for the hauliers who had to manhandle 100-200 kilograms at a time on their backs in the darkness of the mine, or for the carters who had to push the heavy underground trucks, work in the pits was punishingly hard physical labor, and as a result, it was far from easy to secure adequate numbers of laborers. Neither could newly-hired laborers be expected to do a decent day's work straightaway. For them it was hard work just finding their way about in the pitch dark with only their dim lanterns to guide them. Negotiating the low narrow tunnels and climbing up and down slippery walkways and ladders was extremely dangerous, and innumerable accidents resulted from cave-ins and falls. Many accounts testify to the fears felt by inexperienced workers in the darkness of the pits(23). The agelong contempt in which society in general had held the mineworkers was exacerbated by the use of convict labor and by episodes such as the Takashima coal mine affair. For all these reasons, few men wished to work as mine laborers, and those that did rarely stayed long. However, the numbers needed down the mines in the 1880s were considerable, and the solutions to the problem were provided by convict labor and the hanba system.
The next problem to consider is how far Ashio wage levels changed in the years after the 1880s. Compared with the 1880s very little data for the 1890s has so far come to light. Available data relating to miners' average wage levels comes from the three years 1895-7 and was included in an observation study report on the Ashio copper mine submitted in 1898 by Kibe Kazue, then a student at Tokyo Imperial University's School of Engineering and later Pits Department Manager at the time of the riot. Kibe probably obtained the data from Pits Department records, and it is therefore likely to be reliable. A similar report by another Tokyo University student Kamiyama Tatsuzo^ includes data for refinery workers and laborers. After 1900 regular surveys of miners' wages were conducted by the Ministry of Agriculture and Commerce, and from that time on, consistent and reliable data gradually becomes available to the historian. Data from these different sources is shown in Table 16. Occupational categories differ somewhat between the various sources, and strictly speaking, the data does not permit an accurate comparison of the different years, but it does provide an overall picture of the general trends.
|Year||Miners||Refinery workers||Ore dressers||Laborers|
1) Figs. in parentheses are based on an index of 1884=100
2) For 1883, 1884, see "The Life of Furukawa Junkichi" pp. 36, 42, but for miners, see pp. XXXX of this book
3) For 1886, see "History of Tochigi Prefecture" Historical Documents - Modern 9, pp. 13-14, but for miners, see pp. XXXXX of this book.
4) 1895-7: Kibe Kazue Observation Study report
5) 1900: Kamiyama Tatsuzo^ Observation Study report
6) 1901, 1905: "History of Tochigi Prefecture" Letters 8 - Modern 3, p. 624
7) 1903: Ministry of Agriculture and Commerce "Annual Survey of Miners' Ages, Wages, and Length of Service"
8) 1906: "The Treatment of Miners".
|Year||Miners||Refinery Workers||Ore-dressers||Laborers||Consumer price index|
1) Nominal wages for each year have been divided by the consumer price index using 1883 figures = 100 as the index base.
2) The numbers in parentheses show rises and falls in real wages, using the 1884 figures as the index base. For ore dressers, however, 100 = 1886 figures.
Any study of changes in wages over time must include real wages as well as nominal wages (see table 17). As there are, of course, no consumer price index statistics for the Ashio copper mine itself, I have calculated real wages using an (urban) consumer price index (excluding rents) drawn from "Long-term Economic Statistics 8 - Prices" (ed. O^kawa Kazushi and others). Consumer patterns in Ashio resembled more those of an urban rather than a rural context, since virtually all consumer items were brought in from outside. Rents were omitted from the index, both because such data is in any case lacking in the original statistics of the period, and also because many Ashio workers lived in hanba.
The first point of interest in these two tables is the considerable fall in the wages of refinery workers relative to those of other workers. With 1884 as the index base (100), in 1906, while the rate of increase in the wages of miners was equivalent to 136, laborers 188, male and female ore dressers 184, and other female workers 200, the increase in the nominal wages of refinery workers was only 105. As for the gap between the wage levels of different groups of workers, with the miners' wage level as the index base (100), in 1883, refinery workers' wages were 73.3, and laborers' wages 45.6. However, while the 'miners' wages' for 1883 and 1884 are the result of amending the original figures to produce a conjectured figure which applies strictly to miners and not to other mineworkers, refinery workers' wages in those two years covered a broader category of jobs than in other years, and are therefore a good deal lower than in other years. In this period refinery workers also received incentive pay if they made savings on equipment and fuel (wood and coal) as well as a bonus if they produced more than a fixed amount of ore. Two smelters and three bellows operators received one yen per shift in incentive pay for fuel savings(24). In other words, smelters, especially skilled smelters, were actually being paid more than miners. While in the 1880s refinery workers' wages were on a par with those of miners and were far higher than those of laborers, by 1906 the situation had changed to the point where miners' wages were equivalent to 100, refinery workers' to 61.5, and laborers' to 58.3. Refinery workers' wages had declined right down almost to the level of laborers' wages.
The second point to note is that miners' average nominal wages, despite fluctuations, rose consistently over this period, but that the rate of increase did not outstrip the rate of increase in consumer prices. With 1883 as base 100, however, real wages in 1906 were only 66.8, and with 1884 as base 100, the 1906 figure was 73.8. In real terms, miners' wages had declined sharply.
Thirdly, of the four occupational groups indicated, the highest wage rises were those of ore dressers and laborers. The wages of female ore dressers, in particular, doubled over twenty years from 9 sen in 1886 to 18 sen in 1906. Also, laborers' wages had risen by 192.3% in 1906 from their lowest point in 1886. The same cannot be said of real wages, however, which from a base 100 in 1883, had fallen to 85.5 by 1906. Nevertheless, it is very likely that 1886 was an exceptional year for high wages(25), and if 1884 is taken as a base, the 1906 figure is 101.7. In other words, laborers' real wages continued to be stable throughout the period.
When and why did these differences in wage levels appear, and how did they change over time? To answer these questions, it is necessary to investigate changes in labor demand in each occupation, which in turn obviously requires an examination of changes in technology. As this is an area which has received relatively little academic attention by labor historians, we shall leave for the time being the subject of working conditions, and concentrate on a detailed analysis of how far changes in technology affected the size and quality of the Ashio workforce.
(3) "Mining Industry Journal" No.1 (included in
(4)The report is summarized in "The Journal of the Society of Engineers" Vol. 34, 25/10/1884 and in "Historical Documents of the Japanese Labor Movement" Vol. 1. pp.78-83, although the latter mistakenly gives January as the month of publication.
(5) From the content of the 'Sato^ family documents' it is supposed that they were in the possession or safekeeping of Shigeno Kichinosuke who was the author of "The Life of Furukawa Ichihei", "The Life of Furukawa Junkichi", and "The Life of Kimura Cho^bei". Shigeno graduated from Tokyo Higher Commercial School in 1906 and joined the Furukawa Company. For more on the life of this colorful individual who, in addition to being a biographer, was both a tuberculosis sufferer and a leading campaigner for its eradication, as well as an influential supporter of progressive causes and even an actor, see Tanabe Kazuo ed. "Shigeno Kichinosuke" (Society for the Publication of the Biography of Shigeno Kichinosuke", 1957).
(6) Normally, miners' wages were assessed by a piecework system in which a miner was paid according to the quality and quantity of the ore extracted. These, however, were determined by the conditions of the face where the ore was dug. Consequently, twice a month an an official assessment of each face was made and an estimate calculated of how much the face was likely to produce. The resulting ore was known as 'standard ore' (honbanko^). If a miner dug this amount stipulated by the assessment, he was paid the 'standard rate' (honban chingin). Ore extracted in excess of 'standard' was rated more highly and known as 'standard-plus ore' (kako^). Miners who failed to produce 'standard ore' were paid less. This 'standard rate' therefore was in effect a 'standard daily piecework rate'; those mineworkers, such as pit blasters, whose work did not involve the extracting of ore and could not therefore be assessed on such a piecework basis, were also paid the 'standard rate' and were known as 'standard rate miners'.
(7)In the early Meiji Period Ashio was far from being the only metal mine where working hours were short. Between four and six hours, and at the most, eight hours, were worked at many mines.
At the Osarizawa mine "the working day (was) divided in six shifts of four hours each. Miners work one shift a day in relays (1877 National Industry Exposition Explanation of Exhibits (Mining Industry Metallurgy)" p. 26. Historically, miners had always worked short hours, no doubt owing to the poor ventilation and difficult conditions which it impossible to stay underground for very long. Working hours were also cut by the need to perform certain operations rapidly, such as pit-blasting, as well as by other improvements in efficiency.
(8)Sumitani Mikio "Historical Theories of Japanese Wage Labor" (Tokyo University Press) pp. 117-118, 241-246, 253-268. Sho^wa Society ed. "Some Considerations on the History of the Japanese Wage Structure" (Shiseido^, 1960) pp. 207, 226, 231, 241, 244. Kurokawa Toshio "The Japanese Wage Structure" (O^tsuki Shoten, 1963) p. 21. Many writers, linking the hanba system with convict labor, have claimed that miners earned low wages and that their working conditions were atrocious. However, they have often only cited conditions at the Takashima coal mine and at two or three other coal mines and have neglected to add concrete examples of the wages of metalminers.
(9)"History of Tochigi Prefecture" Historical Documents Modern, p.9
(10)"Historical Documents of the Japanese Labor Movement" Vol. 1, p. 82.
(11)Nagaoka Tsuruzo^ 'A Miner's Life' quoted in Nakatomi Hyoe "The Story of Nagaoka Tsuruzo^"
(12)Quoted in Yamamoto Shiro^ 'Miners and the Labor Movement in the Early Meiji Period' Meiji Period Historical Documents Research Group "Labor Issues in the Early Meiji Period" p.199
The second example, from a slightly later period (1896), is from an article on the Ashio mine in the "Kokumin Shinbun" written by the journalist Matsubara Iwagoro^, senior collegue of Yokoyama Gen'nosuke, and a pioneer of reports on the 'lower classes'.
(13)"Kokumin Shinbun" 25/4/1896. Kenkon Ichihoi "Shakai Hyaku Ho^men" p.76. See also "A Cultural Anthology of the Meiji Period" Vol. 15 Society (2).
(14)Aihara Shigeru and Samejima Tatsuyuki ed. "The Japanese Economy In Statistics" (Chikuma Shobo^, 1971) p. 74. For a critical view of these figures, see Nimura 'The Number of Mineworkers in the Early Period of Industrialization - A Critical Study of Mineworkers' Employment Statistics in the Early Meiji Period (I, II)' ("Monthly Research Bulletin" Nos. 289, 290,, Sept., Oct. 1980).
(15)Figures for military arsenals and yards and for state-operated factories are taken from "The 5th Annual Bulletin of Statistics of the Japanese Empire" pp. 135, 153. These figures were reached by dividing the total number of workers in one year (taking into account the totals conjectured by Samejima mentioned in note 14)) by the number of working days at each factory and mine. The result is thus the number of workers working on any one day, probably some 20% less than the actual number of workers on the payroll.
(16)According to the Ministry of Agriculture and Commerce 1906 publication "The Working Conditions of Miners", employee mobility at Ashio at that time was such that for every 100 workers working in one year 66 quit and 76.8 were hired. In the 1880s, when labor disputes were numerous, the mobility rate would have been even higher. The same report indicates that in metal mines on average 62.1 workers quit and 69.6 were hired, a slightly lower turnover than at Ashio.
(17)"The 11th Annual Statistical Bulletin of the Japanese Empire" table 246.
(18)In fact Ashio workers did not work all year round: 'The rest day throughout the mine is fixed as the first day of the month. All workers are also given days off during festival times each year' (O^hara Junnosuke 'The Ashio Copper Mine' "The Journal of the Society of Engineers" No. 34, p. 408). From January to June 1884, that is, in the half-year immediately before O^hara inspected the mine, Ashio was in operation for 172 days with 9 days' rest. Workers are unable to work all year round nonstop in any case, so the all-year round hypothesis is impractical.
(19)Elsewhere ('An Historical Analysis of Labor Management at the Ashio Copper Mine (2)' Ho^sei University O^hara Institute for Social Research "Monthly Research Bulletin" No. 281, Nov. 1981, and "Metal Mines Research Group Bulletin" No. 27, Mar. 1981), I calculated the number of workers according to the total number of days worked, but later, in the course of examining statistics relating to the number of mining industry workers in the 1880s and 90s for another article ('The Number of Mineworkers in the Early Period of Industrialization (I)' "Monthly Research Bulletin" No. 289, Sept. 1982), I noticed that relative to the number of workers, the total number of working days worked in Tochigi Prefecture before 1897 was exceedingly high, and when I calculated on the basis of the number of employees actually on the payroll rather than relying on the record of the total number of days worked which was drawn up by Ashio office staff, I could only conclude that something was in error. Further investigations revealed that the discrepancy between the number of workers and the number of working days was not a general one and that the fact that, in 1912, for example, "An Outline of the Japanese Mining Industry" gives totals of between 450 and 535 working days for various types of workers other than miners, such as refinery workers, ore dressers, underground transport workers and underground laborers, while giving an overall figure of 361 working days per worker for the mine as a whole, could not be a case of a simple mistake having been made. As I shall explain later (see pp. XXXXX), while it is true that working day totals at Ashio were artificially inflated by the addition of days awarded in the form of bonuses and allowances, that is not the whole explanation. A more logical reason for the discrepancy rather was the fact that employee totals were based on a a criterion of 'regular or normal employment'only, while the number of days worked included work done by temporary workers and reflected the actual number of those employed. However, insufficient sources prevent me from drawing a firm conclusion on the matter at present; for that, further research is required.
(20)"History of Tochigi Prefecture" Historical Documents - Modern 9, p. 116.
(21)The debate is of considerable interest not only because it throws light on miners' disputes of the period, but also because it reflects the various opinions which engineers at the time had of miners in general. For example, Watanabe placed responsibility on the mineowners, arguing that headhunting and poaching of miners would lead to higher wage demands and greater mobility of labor; it would "promote idleness and avarice", "make training more difficult", and "corrupt morals". In his own contribution to the debate, Sengoku Ryo^, a former engineer in the Sado mines, posed the following incisive questions:
"I find myself somewhat at a loss to follow the high moral tone of the current debate in our association's journal and in the hope of obtaining clarification, I wish to pose two questions:
1. Is there really anything immoral in employing miners from other mines or people living in other mining areas?
2. Is it really immoral to stimulate competition for employment among workers by offering higher wages or other such means?"
Suzuki Seisuke deplored the fact that "the slightest frustrations over wage rates often meant that miners failed to report for work or else ran away to other mines, both of which malpractices were more damaging than strikes." As "a way of correcting the delinquency" of the miners, he proposed that "managers in the industry should meet once a year in a and discuss methods of managing miners and other workers and of assessing reasonable wages. Another contributor suggested that "kinder and more benevolent treatment of the miners would prevent strike action"
(22)"The Journal of the Japanese Mining Industry Association" No. 53 (August 1889). For 16 months from June 1886 Kurimoto had been Chief Manager of the Mitsui Group's Kamioka mine. He had probably had experience of losing workers from Kamioka to Ashio. However, in 1888, during a big recruitment drive of its own, Kamioka retaliated by headhunting workers from Ashio (Mitsui Metals Co. Ltd "The History of Kamioka Mine" 1970, pp. 612, 686)
(23)Of his own experience of the first day down a pit at the Yamato Munehi mine as a 17 year old haulier, Nagaoka Tsuruzo^ writes: "The first time I went deep down the mine, looking like a beggar with a cord shoulder scarf around me, I was really scared. I could see the lights of lanterns hundreds of meters down below at the bottom. I could hear the tapping of the miners' hammers digging for ore. From time to time I heard the awful boom of explosives being blasted in another part of the mine, while from other parts came the rattling noise of the old-style water pumps. Here and there were doors to allow ventilation, and when these were left open they would make a flapping creaking noise swinging on their hinges. When I think back to those times, it still gives me the creeps. I had only been a merchant's apprentice boy before and that first fearful experience of crawling about in the darkness of the mine reduced me to tears" ('A Miner's Life' "The Social Weekly" No. 38 8/3/1908).
Other examples of such experiences include Kita Ko^suke 'The Misery of the Ashio Miners' ("A Cultural Anthology of the Meiji Period" Society (II), Nihon Hyo^ronsha, 1957), and Natsume So^seki "Miner" (Kadokawa Bunkoban), an account written by the novelist based on a true story told him by a boy who had worked in the mines. Some of these accounts are replete with erroneous usage of technical terms. For example, in metal mines the term 'miner' originally only referred to ore extractors and pit blasters, but is often confused with mineworkers in general. The 'miner' in the title of Natsume's book and the 'miners' referred in Kita's article are both actually representations not of miners proper, but of the lives of underground hauliers.
(24)For further details, see pp. XXXXXX
(25)See pp. XXXXXXXX
Translated by Terry Boardman
Written and Edited by NIMURA, Kazuo @http://oisr.org/nk/