“Two Employer Legacies from the 1900s Recognized as “”Japan’s Labor Heritage”” – Improved working conditions at a spinning works in Kurashiki and the introduction of the eight-hour workday in Kobe -“
At its regular general meeting held on January 13, the Japan Labor Pen Club recognized two historical legacies in the field of labour as aspects of “Japan’s Labor Heritage.” One is the Kurabo Memorial Hall in the city of Kurashiki in western Japan, which contains materials and equipment relating to improvements of the working environment at a spinning works beginning in 1908. The other comprises materials and a commemorative monument to the eight-hour workday introduced in 1919 at a shipyard in Kobe, in the Kansai region.
The Japan Labor Pen Club is an organization of journalists, researchers, and others interested in economics, society, welfare, and other labor-related issues. In 2021, the organization celebrated its 40th anniversary, and to commemorate this occasion, commenced its recognition of “Japan’s Labor Heritage.” Last year, which was the inaugural year, two sites related to the labor movement were recognized, while this year, the second year, two sites were selected on the employers’ side.
The heritage in Kurashiki City relates to achievements made to improve the working environment at Kurabo Industries Ltd. In 1908, Magosaburo Ohara, president of the company, completely renovated the dormitories for factory workers to provide a more humane living environment. He also established the Ohara Institute of Social Issues in 1919 and the Kurashiki Labor Science Institute in 1921 as institutes of research into labor-related and social problems. These research institutions have carried on to the present day. The Kurabo Memorial Hall in Kurashiki City still retains equipment and materials from those days. The G7 Labour and Employment Ministerial Meeting in Japan in April this year will be held at the Ivy Square facility, located on the 1900s site of the Kurashiki Spinning Works factory, which is also the site of the Memorial Hall.
The other legacy recognized at this time in Kobe relates to the introduction of the eight-hour workday, which was achieved in 1919 at Kobe’s Kawasaki Dockyard (now Kawasaki Heavy Industries, Ltd.). The president of Kawasaki Dockyard, Kojiro Matsukata, was aware of the eight-hour workday international labor standard established the same year by the International Labor Organization (ILO), and announced its introduction during labor-management negotiations. The materials documenting this and the commemorative monument established for posterity have been recognized as part of Japan’s labor heritage.
This recognition of labor heritage by the Japan Labor Pen Club is the first such in Japan, although other countries are home to organizations such as the Labor Heritage Foundation (USA), the Peoples History Museum (UK), the Museum of Labour and Technology (Germany), and the Australian Workers’ Heritage Center (Australia). Among other factors, Japan’s labor heritage recognition program is characterized by the fact that both labor and management aspects can be nominated for recognition. It is hoped that this project will help to share the historical legacy of labor in Japan with future generations.