Wednesday, October 24, 2007

The Song Remains the Same

Fujimura Shirō was not a man of rest.

At 28 years of age he became the most powerful politician in the prefecture. The prefecture, however, was backward and rural, receiving hardly any support from Tokyo, barely participating in the trade-based economic boom taking place along the Pacific Coast.

Fujimura Shirō was going to put an end to his prefecture's backwardness through a three-pronged strategy of coordinated economic development.

The first element was the construction of highways. "Our main outlet to the coast is no wider than alley!" he thundered. With subsidies from Tokyo and matching outlays from the local municipalities, local construction gangs widened the narrow lanes to accommodate the biggest haulage vehicles. It was frightfully expensive. However, Fujimura guaranteed that with the new access to the coast, the prefecture's previously isolated mountain hamlets would be drawn into the modern era.

The second element was a wave of government supported industrial development. The prefecture had always been an agricultural zone. Some mining had always been done but the industry's days were numbered. There had not been any significant manufacturing in the prefecture since the Sengoku period.

Fujimura set about changing that. With government seed money and again every bit of revenue he could squeeze out of the local governments, he arranged for the construction of a giant industrial complex, the second largest of its kind in the country.

Thirdly, Fujimura needed a set of educated but obedient workers to work in the industrial complex. He took a great interest in the promotion of education in the prefecture, encouraging and overseeing the construction of modern school facilities in even the most remote locations. However, the curriculum, while intense and high quality, emphasized rote memorization of basic facts and repetition. Creative and critical thinking were not taught.

Within only a few years, a number of Fujimura's gargantuan dreams were turning into costly embarrassments.

The adjoining prefecture refused to fund the widening of its roads in order to link up with Fujimura's highways. The prefecture's expensive, expansive new roads became indeed "highways to nowhere."

Development of the industrial complex too, caused problems. The massive loss-making complex competed directly with private enterprise, smothering entrepreneurship in the prefecture. Providing workers and raw materials to the prefectural industrial complex also starved other, more traditional ventures of capital, labor and most importantly, land.

The main newspaper, taking huge political risks, grew critical of Fujimura's economic developments and their relationships with the political structure. It bewailed the lack of free expression of opinions about the changes being wrought. In time, criticism of Fujimura's policies joined with similar criticisms elsewhere, becoming a national movement among the normally passive citizenry, one that demanded a greater voice in spending of their yen and a more transparent political system.

Politicians in Tokyo, panicking, promised reforms of the political system--a promise that they did deliver upon, although in an incomplete manner, many years later, in a form very different from the one imagined by enraged citizens.

For the residents of Fujimura's prefecture, however, the once seemingly all-important questions of poorly thought-out development and political accountability faded in the face of the task of coping with a massive, long-running spiral of deflation engineered by the central banking authorities of Tokyo. Prices for everything fell sharply, driving debtors to desperation and the rural areas into sharp decline.

* * *

Fujimura Shirō (1845-1908) was a Kumamoto samurai who became Governor of Yamanashi Prefecture in 1873. He served in the post for 14 years before becoming Governor of Ehime Prefecture. During his term in Yamanashi, he directed the widening and linking of the Ōme Kaidō and Kōshu Kaidō in order to connect the remotest part of the prefecture with the great port at Yokohama, a project that came to naught when Kanagawa Prefecture refused to expand its section of the Kōshu Kaidō to accommodated carriages and other draught vehicles. He arranged for the construction of the vastly over budget prefectural silkworks in Kōfu, second in size only to the great Tomioka silkworks of Gunma Prefecture (the Tomioka works is a proposed World Heritage Site). He encouraged the deemphasis of the production of foodstuffs in favor of the cultivation of paper mulberry and the raising of silkworms. He ordered the construction of a dense network of "renaissance-style" elementary schools teaching factory skills and silk clothing manufacture, then deputized citizens to drag school age children to their classes (Yamanashi Prefecture today boasts the greatest number of surviving examples of early Meiji era elementary school architecture of any prefecture).

The newspaper that spoke out against Fujimura's economic development policies was the now long-defunct Kōchu Shinpō (峡中新報).  The political movement was the Jiyū Minken Undō (自由民権運動) that demanded, among many other liberal reforms, a constitution. Itō Hirobumi delivered his Meiji Constitution in 1889. Suffice it to say it was not quite the political reform document Jiyū Minken Undō leaders had been seeking.

The deflation was the Matsukata deflation (松方デフレ) instigated in order to halt the inflationary spiral set off by the costs of the Seinan War (西南戦争) of 1877.

JIC members visiting the Ogata Elementary School
one of the surviving "Fujimura schools," opened in 1878
Tsuru City, Yamanashi Prefecture
October 21, 2007


Anonymous said...

Plus ca cgange ... but, pray, carry on the story into present - for those of us so far away. And, what is JIC ?



Christopher said...

Fascinating. Thank you.