Labor Report from Meiji Japan (3)

Fusataro Takano

  The Japanese Workers' Condition

    The editor of the Review of Reviews, discussing our civilization in its recent in its recent issue, says: "The Japanese have not only learned to use modern machinery in manufactures, but they also learned to make the machinery themselves; and by reason of their cheap labor they can produce at lower cost than the European countries."
    To one who believes in permanent good of the high wage condition, such comment cannot be accepted as a flattering compliment.  Nevertheless, what he says is true, and the fact may be considered as a blot upon our civilization, if we take it for granted that the high wage condition is the natural outcome of high civilization.  In order to give some idea of our cheap wage condition, I shall take a hurried glance over the existing status of some of the working classes.
     In Tokio, the capital of Japan, the center of our advanced System of industry and commerce, where wages are generally higher than in any other part of the country, a carpenter, one of the most important workers, receives only fifty cents (Japanese money, a dollar of which equals about fifty cents in United States money at present rate of exchange) per day.   Daily wage of a plasterer is fifty-five cents, and that of a mason, sixty cents. In making the patrolmen's uniforms, (the goods of which they are made are a great deal inferior to that which is used for the same purpose in America), a tailor receives eighteen cents per suit. Even an experienced hand has to work from 8 A.M. to 12 P.M. to finish one suit.
     Coming down to a still lower class of the workers, which you may term the "hand-to-mouth" workers, the wages they receive are very small.   Those who make underwear receive from seven to ten cents per dozen, and for making the tabi (sox), fifteen cents per dozen.  A day's earnings of an umbrella-maker will not amount to more than eight or ten cents.  A glass-workers in making lamp chimneys, will earn from eight to twelve cents per thousand, and to do so he has to work six or seven hours.   The earnings of a large majority of home-workers (women and children) will not reach more than five or six cents a day.  For example: Those who make paper boxes earn sixteen cents per one thousand of four-inch square boxes; the average worker can make only three hundred a day, thus their daily earning, after paying for mucilage themselves, amounts to about three cents.   The color painting on lithographical pictures will bring six cents per hundred. The colorings are their own expense.   An experienced hand can finish only twenty in an hour.  Apart from the hand-workers, there are a great number who work under a modern system of industry, and their condition is, generally, a great deal better than those of the hand-workers.   I shall try to depict them in my next report.
     With these low figures of wages before you, you may naturally conclude that the great mass of the Japanese workers are in a most pitiable condition--such as are similar to those of the workers under the sweating system in New York--but, when you consider the fact that in Tokio the working class can get three meals and a comfortable night's lodging at twelve and a half cents, or a wholesome meal at two and a half cents, you will know that their condition is not as distressing as that of sweating workers.   ;Nor should the condition of the working people be a special object of pity, because even the members of the house of representatives receive only eight hundred dollars per year. Indeed, those who earn thirty or forty dollars a month are considered among the well-to-do class.
     These conditions fit very well to our national status, so long as we are satisfied with our present degree of civilization and material wealth. But to bring our civilization and material wealth to a higher point it is necessary to break down the prevailing systems, and this can only be done by industrial revolution, brought about by long and patient work of education, agitation and organization among the great mass of the Japanese working people.
Tokio, Japan, June, 1895.

American Federationist vol.II. No.7, September, l895

Edited by NIMURA, Kazuo