Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Japanese Silk Workers Songs

In late 19th century and early 20th century Japan, thousands of young women workers were recruited from villlages to work in the cotton and silk mills. The work was hard with long hours and dangerous conditions, and even outside of work the companies controlled their workers' lives, keeping them in dormitories and controlling their movements.

'Many did not get out of their dorms until the end of the year when they were allowed to visit their homes for New Year's. In order to keep the girls confined, factories built tall fences around the compounds - much like those of a prison camp. In fact, factory girls used to sing:

Working in a factory is like working in a prison
The only difference is the absence of iron chains'

In 1927, silk workers went on strike in Okaya. They 'marched through the town of Okaya singing labor songs, one of which went:

Harsher than prison life is life in the dormitory
The factory is like hell
The foreman is the devil,
and the spinning wheel is a wheel on fire

I wish I had wings to fly away to the other shore,
I want to go home, over the mountain pass,
to my sisters and parents.'

Source: Mikiso Hane, Peasant, Rebels and Outcastes: the Underside of Modern Japan (New York: Pantheon, 1982, p.185-196.

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