(JAPANESE POLITICS and SOCIETY, to 1927 – continued)

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JAPANESE POLITICS and SOCIETY, to 1927 (3 of 9)

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Big Business, Labor and Women, to 1922

Japan was the most industrially advanced nation in Asia. During World War I, like the United States it had sold war supplies to the belligerents and had benefited economically from the war. Japan's output of steel had almost doubled between 1913 and 1920. At the end of the war, Japan was manufacturing much of what it had been importing from Europe before the war. And Japan was supplying China, India and other Asian countries with manufactured goods.

Capitalists in Japan were not restricted in absorbing other businesses, and in Japan cartels had developed – in iron, steel, chemicals, textiles, paper, cement and foods. Many of the newly affluent connected to industrialization were extravagant in their spending, and they were haughty toward the less fortunate. They antagonized poorer people who felt over-worked. They also antagonized aristocrats who had been brought up on the traditions of discipline, restraint and asceticism.

Parliamentary politicians had become subservient to those with wealth. Influenced by big business, the legislators kept spending at a minimum by keeping military budgets low. Frugality was good business and included keeping the wages of employees low. The heads of corporations were like frugal fathers, doing what was good for the family. But occasionally the low wages produced tantrums, as it had during the war when prices were rising and real wages declining. Desperate housewives demonstrated. In the summer of 1918 riots occurred in various cities. More than a hundred people were killed and 25,000 were arrested.

Seeing democracies as emerging from the war victorious and autocracies having fallen, Japan's urbanites and intellectuals acquired a heightened respect for democracy. University students, impressed by liberal institutions in the US and Britain, led in agitating for universal manhood suffrage. And the government responded, doubling the size of the electorate by extending the vote to the propertied middle class.

Factory workers were impressed by the power of labor unions in the West, and they increased their organizing and agitating for more pay and for the eight-hour day and forty-hour week. The number of labor unions in Japan was rising dramatically. Strikes and clashes with police became as common in Japan as they were in the West. To many working people in Japan's cities the government appeared to be for the rich. A socialist movement was growing, and in 1920 the Japanese had their first May Day demonstration. In its struggle against corporations, Japan's labor movement won some victories, including the eight-hour day for male workers, while women employed in factories continued to work twelve hours per day.

In 1920, Japanese feminists organized the New Women's Association and spoke out for equal opportunities for women, for the protection of the rights of mothers and children and for universal suffrage – without success. Legally, married women were treated as minors. Marriage was a matter of master and servant. A married woman had no property and was easily divorced. Her departing husband was not required to provide for her livelihood, and he was able to keep the children. Women were seldom given a share in an inheritance if a son existed. Few women were employed in business or the professions. In 1922, women would be granted the right to sponsor and listen to political speeches, but they continued to be prohibited from joining a political party.


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