Female Labor

Publication List of this Subject

Female labor performed an important role in the process of Japan’s industrialization. The growth of the silk-reeling and cotton-spinning industries, the two major exporting sectors in prewar Japan, were fundamentally reliant on the labor of young women. Foreign exchange earned by silk and cotton was used for importing the machinery and raw materials that were vitally needed for building the foundations of heavy industry.

But what was the impact of technological innovation on the nature of female labor? The study group tried to answer this question, which represents a hitherto unexplored side of Japan’s technological development. Their analyses involved not only the female workers in silk-reeling but those in coal mining and miscellaneous urban small industries.

They also extended their field of enquiry to the post-1945 period and studied female workers in family-based enterprises in fisheries as well as employed female workers in general during the period of rapid economic growth.
Let us briefly look at female labor in the silk-reeling and coal-mining industries. In contrast to the cotton-spinning industry which from the start relied on imported large-scale machinery, the production system employed in silk-reeling was less mechanized and characterized by a combination of Western and indigenous technologies, a factor that led to the intensive use of female workers in this industry.

Unlike the cotton-spinning and silk-reeling industries, most coal-mining processes continued to rely on manual labor using simple tools. Moreover a working pattern in which a married couple worked as a unit was widespread. However, after the late 1920s thorough innovation of coal-mining technology took place in the major coal mines, and most women miners were put out of work. This trend accelerated after 1928, when underground work for women and young people was banned by law.