The Meiji RestorationS Affect On The Peasant

The Meiji Restoration?S Affect On The Peasant And Working Class Essay, Research Paper

Eugene Yu


Yuko 1:25


The Meiji Restoration?s Affect on the Peasant and Working Class

The Meiji Restoration, despite all the good it created, negatively affected the lives of peasants and laborers in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The restoration is characterized by modernization, a term that symbolizes the use of present day ideals over ancient times and holding progressive opinions over earlier ones. In Japan, modernization was defined as an increase in industry to meet the demanding needs of the nation and foreigners. In addition, modernization also included Japan?s desire to build a stronger centralized unit through government and military that could be attained through the restoration.

In order to achieve this, Japan needed to build an immense working class to supply all the goods demanded. The Japanese went after those with the least amount of power: the lower class and peasants. In order for Japan to become modernized, the laborers and lower class would have to suffer and endure hard times for the good of the country. To ensure that they did not resist or rebel, a strong sense of nationalism needed to be built up; fortunately for Japan, it was already an extremely nationalistic country based on the ideals of Confucianism. The work and cooperation of the peasants and laborers were vital elements in Japan?s reformation process.

There is little doubt of the lowered standard of living for the peasant and working class as a result of the Meiji Restoration. Business owners and elites, with pressures from the government, sought out cheap labor in small communities and villages largely composed of peasant families. The living conditions and quality of life of these village families deteriorated as the need for mass production of goods increased. Workers in labor intensive fields such as agriculture, silk production, and mining all suffered; areas of life that were affected included diet, clothing, health, housing, and general living conditions.

The diet of the average peasant lacked nutrition and usually consisted of rice with millet. In the film, ?Ah, Nomugi Toge? the female workers actually left home in order to be better fed at the factories. Clothing consisted of ragged, patched up clothes handed down from family members. The health and sanitary conditions of the peasants were far below substandard. Contaminated water, infected by human and animal feces, caused unsanitary conditions leading to a number of infectious and communicable diseases. Housing, although improving slightly after the Meiji Restoration, still remained largely primitive.

As a result of these poor living conditions, families sought to send their family members where the demand of workers was needed, including the silk and coal industry. As the film ?Ah, Nomugi Toge? depicted, life in the factory was no better if not worse than at home. The journey through the snowy mountains was difficult and treacherous. Once at the factories, the silk spinners worked long hours of monotonous work and were abused if they began to slow. One spinner was murdered after performing below her quota. The young workers were at the mercy of their overseers whom often abused their power. Similarly, the lives of the coal mine workers were as adverse. Working up to 14 hours a day in over 100 degree conditions, the workers were treated inhumanely. The bosses and overseers would punish the miners if he or she disobeyed the crew boss. The bosses would tie their hands and hang them by a beam while they were beaten in front of the other workers. In addition, many of the mine laborers lost their lives as a result of sickness, brutality, and mine accidents.

A question arises from the restoration: why did the peasant and laboring class not resist or rebel when these conditions began to deteriorate? An increase in the sense of country, or nationalism, spread throughout as the wars began with Russia and China and seemed to fuel national pride. The spinners continued to spin and the miners continually dug because they believed that their work was benefiting the country. The workers valued family above all; they understood that if Japan could triumph, that their families might lead better and improved lives. This is evident in the film where Mine, the ideal worker, exhibits her love for her family despite all the hard work she endures. She graciously gives the money she has earned spinning silk to her parents. Near the end of the war with Russia, the silk spinners leapt for joy when they were informed that the silk that they were spinning helped contribute to the defeat over Russia. Whether this sentiment was artificial or not, it seemed to propel the laborers to work even harder despite the arduous conditions.

Confucianism fueled the integrity of the workers. Their value of family over 0individual self is apparent in both the silk and coal workers. Any reasonable person or persons would not undergo the abuse that they did. Their pride in family and nation was vital in keeping order and cooperation within this working class.

In a modernizing society, someone has to do the hard and laborious work and endure substandard living conditions. Similar to the Industrial Revolution in Europe, the lower class and laborers were put to work, often times employing women and even children. In order to keep worker spirits up, the government and factory owners reinforced a nationalistic attitude and resorted to violence when the laborers were not working at maximum capacity. The workingmen and women suffered immensely as a result of the Meiji Restoration. At the end of the film, Mine, the model worker, dies suddenly. The ruthlessness of industrialization and modernization is revealed. It did not matter that she was one of the most talented workers- she was only a commodity like the rest of the spinners. The director is attempting to portray modernization as an advancement at the expense of the working and peasant class. The workers and peasants represent the dissolution of the family and Confucianism and the emergence of industry and commerce.


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