A source of Japanese democracy

This year marks the 130th anniversary of the Chichibu Incident in Saitama Prefecture. Of the more than 10 “peasant” uprisings that occurred in Japan in 1883 and 1884, the Chichibu Incident (November 1884) was the largest and most violent. The people who participated in it were mostly farmers. Some were schoolteachers, regional lawyers and village chiefs. Most of the participants were in their 20s and 30s; a few were in their teens or their 50s.

Their fight for survival lasted four days. The consequences were terrible. At least 34 people were killed in fighting against forces of [the Tokyo Metropolitan Police and the new Imperial Japanese Army]. Twelve people received the death penalty, and more than 30 died in prisons, mostly in Hokkaido.

After the Meiji Restoration in 1868, the new government ruled the country without a constitution or a parliament. The government’s desire to enrich the nation and build up its defenses caused inflation. Then the government’s efforts to correct the inflation resulted in gross deflation.

It directly affected farmers. A mountainous region like Chichibu wasn’t really suitable for farming, so the farmers had to produce raw silk as side jobs. Because of a world depression amid Japan’s deflation, the price of silk went down dramatically and the farmers could hardly repay their debts. Failing to resolve their problems legitimately, they resorted to the uprising.

The uprising was disciplined and well-organized. The number of people who participated varied, depending on the day. The largest number was around 10,000 people. After putting down the uprising in severe fighting, the despotic Meiji government suppressed the area cruelly. It was after the 1970s that people could talk about the incident and build tombs for those killed.

Now the Chichibu Incident is considered one of the revolutionary sources for democracy in Japan. It was very important that basic social rights, including the “survival right” demanded in 1884, were proclaimed in the Constitution.

eiko nonomiya
tokyo

The opinions expressed in this letter to the editor are the writer’s own and do not necessarily reflect the policies of The Japan Times.