Slavery in Japan

Slavery in Japan

During most of the history of the country, the practice of slavery in Japan involved only indigenous Japanese, as the export and import of slaves was significantly restricted by isolation of the group of islands from other areas of Asia. However, with the expansion of the Empire of Japan in the first half of the Shōwa era, millions of people from the Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere were abducted and used to improve the industrial production and the war effort.

Indigenous slavery

The export of a slave from Japan is recorded in 3rd century Chinese historical record, but it is unclear what system was involved, and whether this was a common practice at that time. These slaves were called "Seikō" (生口) (lit. "living mouth"). The export of slaves from Japan ceased, in part because they were more expensive than those transported overland into China.

In the 8th century, slaves were called "Nuhi" (奴婢) and laws on slavery were issued. These slaves tended farms and worked around houses. Information on the slave population is sketchy. In one area of present-day Ibaraki prefecture around 2,000 individuals, out of a population of 190,000, were slaves, but this is believed to have been a relatively low proportion. Numbers are believed to have been significantly higher in western Japan.

By the Sengoku period (1467-1615) the attitude that slavery was anachronistic seems to have become widespread. Oda Nobunaga was presented with a black slave by Catholic priests, in the first recorded encounter between a Japanese and an African. He was freed by Nobunaga and made a samurai to serve by his side, under the Japanese name Yasuke. After the death of Nobunaga, and the suicide of his son Oda Nobutada at Azuchi castle, Yasuke was returned to the Jesuits' residence in Kyoto. At this point, he disappears from history, and his fate is unknown.

With the arrival of the leading Jesuit Francis Xavier in 1549, Catholicism developed as a major religious force in Japan. The tolerance towards Western "padres" was initially linked to trade concerns and part of that trade was slaves. There arose concern about the slavery of mainly Japanese women between the Christian Daimyo and the Portuguese Maranos, involving around 500,000 Japanese, mainly in a trade for gunpowder. [cite book
last = Onizuka
first = Hideaki
title = The Rosary of the Showa Emperor
publisher = Bainbridgebooks/Trans-Atlantic Publications
quote = Japan would exchange a barrel of gunpowder for fifty slaves. (In this case it would be specified as white-skinned (light skinned) good –looking (pleasing to the eyes) young Japanese women/maidens) In the name of God, if Japan can be occupied/possessed I am sure the price can be increased.
date = 2006
pages = 225
isbn = 4-88086-200-2
] [cite book
last = Tokutomi
first = Soho
title = History of Modern Japanese People: The Toyotomi Era
publisher = Bainbridgebooks/Trans-Atlantic Publications
date = 1998
pages = 337-387
isbn = 1-8916-960-5X
] which affected Hideyoshi's reaction to Christianity. Nevertheless, despite obvious flaws of such claims (e.g. shipping 500,000 people in 40 years would make an average of 1000 people per month - a sheer impossibility, taking into account the relatively small number and capacity of European ships coming to Japan at the time. By comparison, the whole Spanish Armada mobilized for the invasion of England in 1589 consisted of 22 warships of the Spanish Royal Navy and 108 converted merchant vessels.In 1588, Toyotomi Hideyoshi ordered all slave trading to be abolished. This was continued by his successors.

World War II

In the first half of the Shōwa era, as the Empire of Japan annexed Asian countries, from the late 19th century onwards, archaic institutions including slavery were abolished in those countries. However, during the Second Sino-Japanese War and the Pacific War, the Japanese military used millions of civilians and prisoners of war as forced labor, on projects such as the Burma Railway.

According to a joint study by historians including Zhifen Ju, Mitsuyoshi Himeta, Toru Kubo and Mark Peattie, more than 10 million Chinese civilians were mobilized by the "Kōa-in" (East Asia Development Board) for forced labour. [Zhifen Ju, "Japan's Atrocities of Conscripting and Abusing North China Draftees after the Outbreak of the Pacific War", Joint study of the Sino-Japanese war, 2002,] According to the Japanese military's own record, nearly 25% of 140,000 Allied POWs died while interned in Japanese prison camps where they were forced to work (U.S. POWs died at a rate of 37%). [ [ How Japanese companies built fortunes on American POWs] ] [ [ Japanese Atrocities in the Philippines] ] More than 100,000 civilians and POWs died in the construction of the Burma-Siam Railway. [ [ links for research, Allied POWs under the Japanese ] ] The U.S. Library of Congress estimates that in Java, between 4 and 10 million "romusha" (Japanese: "manual laborer"), were forced to work by the Japanese military. [ [ Library of Congress, 1992, "Indonesia: World War II and the Struggle For Independence, 1942-50; The Japanese Occupation, 1942-45"] Access date: February 9, 2007. ] About 270,000 of these Javanese laborers were sent to other Japanese-held areas in South East Asia. Only 52,000 were repatriated to Java, meaning that there was a death rate of 80%. (For further details, see Japanese war crimes.) [ [ Christopher Reed: Japan's Dirty Secret, One Million Korean Slaves] ]

Approximately 5,400,000 Koreans were conscripted into forced labor from 1939 to 1945. About 670,000 of them were taken to Japan, where about 60,000 died between 1939 and 1945 due mostly to exhaustion or poor working conditions. Many of those taken to Karafuto Prefecture (modern-day Sakhalin) were trapped there at the end of the war, stripped of their nationality and denied repatriation by Japan; they became known as the Sakhalin Koreans.cite news|last=Lankov|first=Andrei|publisher=The Korea Times|date=2006-01-05|accessdate=2006-11-26|title=Stateless in Sakhalin|url=] The total deaths of Korean forced laborers in Korea and Manchuria for those years is estimated to be between 270,000 and 810,000. [cite book | first=R. J. | last=Rummel | coauthors= | title=Statistics of Democide: Genocide and Mass Murder Since 1990 | publisher=Lit Verlag | location= | year=1999 | editor= | id=ISBN 3-8258-4010-7Available online: cite web | title=Statistics of Democide: Chapter 3 - Statistics Of Japanese Democide Estimates, Calculations, And Sources | work=Freedom, Democracy, Peace; Power, Democide, and War | url= | accessdate=2006-03-01]

As many as 200,000 "comfort women" [ [ Congress backs off of wartime Japan rebuke] ] mostly from Korea and China, and some other countries such as the Philippines, Taiwan, Burma, the Dutch East Indies, Netherlands, [ [ Comfort Women Were 'Raped': U.S. Ambassador to Japan] ] and Australia [ [ Abe ignores evidence, say Australia's 'comfort women'] ] were forced into sexual slavery during World War II to satisfy Japanese Imperial Army and Navy members.


* ja

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