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Labor Camp in the Showa Era (1926-1989)
August 1965

Showa no Takobeya
[Labor Camp in the Showa Era (1926-1989)]
38.0 x 53.9 cm Painting in Watercolors and Ink

The coal pits in wartime did their best to mine and ship as much coal as they could and it was not enough for a miner to mine usual quantity of coal that an individual could mine in a day. The "tsurubashi senshis (pickax soldiers)" were strongly urged to work ten times as hard as usual. Ito Coal Pit maintained an archaic labor system called o-naya seido (under which the bosses of boarding houses for unmarried male miners controlled the latter). Among four or five miner group bosses, the brothers of H and S used only unmarried male workers (hamba). They treated the unmarried men as cruelly as the bosses of labor camps. It was partly because the war forced them to do so. Though many family men among miners in the pit often took days off or stopped working halfway under the mask of hunger from want of food, the miners of H's naya (o-naya: hamba) group could not take days off at all except on Sundays. Additionally, they could not exit the pit before each mining 1 and a half tons or 3 mine-car-loads of coal once they had entered the pit. It was in 1943 or later that they worked under the above conditions.
400 grams of rice a day was distributed to each person by the government at that time. Another 400 grams of rice was specially issued to underground workers but they could not take days off. It goes without saying that they could not take in the necessary calories because not enough food was supplied.
The miners of H's o-naya mined coal by removing coal pillars one after another. The group had 30 workers and sometimes up to 50. There were two managers, two repairers, and two watchers among them. Each of these people was responsible for 20 % of the above normal production of coal. An expert hewer (sakiyama) was responsible for 20 %. A normal hewer was responsible for 10 %. A hewer's helper (atoyama) was responsible for 80 or 90 %. Therefore, if the average production of coal by a worker was 3 mine cars of coal, an atoyama had to fill 8 mine cars with coal by scooping it up into them per day. A mine car had the capacity of 50 winnows (ebi) of coal, so an atoyama had to scoop up coal 400 times a day. Their haulage ways between coalfaces and levels were at least 20 meters or at most 50 meters long. A lot of workers ran away from the pit (ketsuwari), unable to withstand the above toil. As a preventive measure against escapes, the managers let the first shift workers enter the pit at dawn and go out of the pit before sunset. They let the second shift workers enter the pit before dark and exit the pit at dawn. They also watched their workers during the bath time. If some workers finished bathing later than others, the watchers pushed them with sticks and the workers had to quickly finish bathing before they had thoroughly cleaned their bodies. Therefore, they got lousy.
Young and strong miners were sent to the front and weak people, old men or women were left in the pit. Air raid attacks by B-29 bombers on northern Kyushu continued almost every night from the end of 1944. Machines on the surface stopped and empty mine cars were sent down into the pit around 2 a.m. I still remember the pitiful conditions of unmarried workers in the pit at that time. Everyone looked pale and thin because of malnourishment. Each of them carried their ebi, puffing and tottering like drunken crucian carps in muddy water. They were so pathetic that I could not fully describe them.
Masaru Yoshida aged 35 killed himself with dynamite in one of the old workings of the No.5 level right of the right diagonal slope on May 7th in 1944.
Tsunekichi Koishiwara aged 52 killed himself with dynamite in one of the old workings of the No.3 level right of the main slope on June 30th in 1945.
Several other workers were killed in unidentified collapses.
The Mainichi Newspaper called pit workers "koin (mine worker) " instead of the former alias "tsurubashi senshi" in the end of November in 1943.

Translation Assisted by Mr. Nathan Johndro

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