chapter  Thirteen
15 Pages

Gender and Ethnicity in Japan's Chikuho Coalfield

ByW. Donald Smith

Ethnicity, gender, region and status have divided the modern Japanese workforce in all too familiar ways, and struggle and conflict have been integral parts of labour relations. Japan is often called a resource-poor country, but in fact it has several major coalfields that fuelled its industrial revolution and imperialist expansion into Asia. This chapter focuses on one of these fields, Chikuho in southwestern Japan. Women played an important role in Chikuho long before the first modern mines opened. Women mine workers stood up for themselves on the job as well as at home, displaying a potential for militancy that male labour leaders did not seem to recognize. Just as large numbers of women were brought into modern mining in response to technological change, further mechanization led to their expulsion. Koreans became important to the Japanese coal industry during the First World War. Chikuho's last underground colliery closed in 1976, and the region has never recovered from the blow.