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Why coal mines, now?
-From discharged workers survey to "Warship Island sightseeing"

Naoko Shimazaki / Professor on the Faculty of Letters, Arts and Sciences, Waseda University

The coal industry, which has provided underlying support for postwar reconstruction in Japan, experienced the energy revolution in the 1960's and passed through restructuring with rationalization and scrap-and-build measures mainly conducted by the government to end with the closing of the Taiheiyo coal mine in 2002. It counted about 800 running coal mines, an annual yield of 53 million tons, and 360 thousand regular workers across the country at peak periods. This focus on the coal industry, a symbol of capitalist heavy industry, is important in studying the development process of modern capitalism in Japan. Not only in economics, but also in sociology, many of my predecessors have conducted comprehensive field research concerning a range of issues-including local communities in coal-producing regions, labor management in collective housing style such as coal mine company housing, union activities, the "Tomoko" system (a unique mutual aid relationship), and the lives of coal miners and their families-in many coal mines across the nation, and then accumulated the results. Research continues into the 21st century, providing new topics and implications. This paper will describe the current situation of the coal industry.

Coal mine studies in sociology - Joban coal mine studies and Waseda University -

The faculty of Social Sciences at Waseda University has studied the Joban coalfield area centered on the Iwaki Mining Plant of the former Joban Coal Mine Co. Ltd. (Iwaki city, Fukushima prefecture) since the 1950's (the "Family survey of the Joban coal miners" in 1958, the "Regional community survey" in 1964, and the "Research on actual life situations and consciousness in the Joban coal mine" in 1967). The Joban coal mine, adjacent to the Keiyo-Keihin industrial area, was the scene of the film "Hula Girls" and was once the biggest coal mine in mainland Japan, which reached its peak in the late 1950's. The mine was completely closed in 1971 with all mining operations concluding in 1976. Based on local industry rather than on large capital, and because of poor coal quality, and bad mining conditions, the Joban coal mine was developed and managed with the so-called "One coalfield, One family" policy, which resulted in unique positioning of the union.

Taking over and continuing the research achieved before the mine closure, we started the second project: "The Discharge of Five Thousand Coal Miners and their Life-Course Transitions" (project chief: Hiroshi Masaoka) in 1997. The project comprises four topics. The first topic is to clarify how the coal industry in Japan declined and then disappeared after World War II by taking the historical transition of the Joban coal mine and its labor union as an example. We are checking a considerable amount of documents written before and after the mine closure to identify the dynamics of repetitive organized interaction among the company, employees, union, and local communities which led to a rise and then a fall. For example, around 5,000 coal miners were discharged due to the mine closure, but their job security was ensured as part of employment project conducted in cooperation with the company, union, and Employment Security Office. Originally 703 companies had opportunities for 11,592 workers in total, while 88% (3,974) of the discharged workers managed to get reemployment at 855 companies within one and a half years after the mini closure. The process for reaching reemployment included job consultation, development of new employment, introduction, and persuasion, which was based on the experiences accumulated through the first rationalization time in the 1960's (See Shimazaki 2004).

Study on the life course of discharged coal miners

The second topic is to determine how the discharged coal miners re-built their careers after the mine closure at an individual level from the viewpoint of the life course theory. The third topic is to determine the dynamics when Japanese workers in key industries in the 20th century built their careers by combining career data before and after the mine closure to form lifelong careers. For the second topic, studies on 4,626 discharged coal miners were followed up 30 years after the closure, as shown in the table below. Fortunately, the follow-up rate is now nearly 90% thanks to full support from local parties concerned.

"The Discharge of Five-thousands Coal Miners and Their Life-Course Transitions" follow-up result
Total number of discharged workers at closure in 1971 Follow-up complete Follow-up complete by 2007 Follow-up impossible
Received response through interview or mails Confirmed as dead Confirmed as alive, but further investigation impossible Confirmed address only
4,626 4,147 1,467 1,595 918 167 479
100.0% 89.6% 31.7% 34.5% 19.8% 3.6% 10.3%
Establishment and maintenance of coal mine archives: from academic use to societal contributions

The last topic is to assemble a variety of materials collected during the course of studying the three topics above into comprehensive digital archives (Waseda University Archival Institute for the Joban Coal Mine: Current Archival Institute for Life -Course Studies) and offer them for use by researchers as well as local public agents. The structure of the archives is shown below (See Shimazaki 2007). This attempt is intended not only to prevent the dissipation, loss, and damage of previous materials but also to accumulate research results in wider areas by making them accessible to many sociological researchers. The establishment of archives naturally leads to comparative studies in other coal mine areas and other industries. Further, opening the archives as social property to Joban area residents, people concerned with the Joban coal mine, and to the public corresponds with the concept of industrial legacy that is now becoming popular. In this regard, the archives contribute to the regeneration of the local community and social education.

New evolution of the coal mine study in the 21st century

Now a focus on coal mines as industrial legacy and community regeneration of previous coal-producing areas can be seen concurrently in Hokkaido (e.g., the regeneration of the Yubari coal mine), Kyushu (e.g., "Warship Island" tourism), as well as overseas. We do not know whether the times call for this focus or whether it is the inevitable current of sociology, but this will become clear later. In either case, coal mines are attracting attention again in the 21st century. In 2008, we ourselves organized a new form of research network called Japan research group on former coalfields (JaFCof). Its immediate challenges are the follow-up studies of discharged coal miners in the Hokkaido Sorachi area based on experiences from the Joban study, and the salvage and archiving of materials concerning the coal mines. Further, beginning with Wales, we are expanding our project into a comparative study of coal mine areas in Europe. Now, this calls up another keyword, "memory." On the one hand, studies on extant coal mines are continuing, but on the other hand, coal mines are attracting increasing attention as memories, which establish a link between historical archives and the current local community. At a time when a post-modern or second-modern society is heralded, studies on the coal mine industry, a symbol of heavy modern industry, will take another step forward.

Symposium planned this summer

This summer, a Japan-UK co-symposium will be held in Sorachi, Hokkaido, Japan and in Wales, England.
* For details, see the Nonprofit Organization Memories of Coal Mining Promotion Agency website.
"Collective Memories of Coal Mining in Japan and Wales: The Roles of Archives and Social Education towards Community Regeneration"
Symposium in Sorachi 2009: 7 (Fri) & 8 (Sat) August, 2009 At The Arte Piazza Bibai (7 August) / Iwamizawa Community Hall (8 August)
Symposium in Wales 2009: 10 (Thu) & 11 (Fri) September, 2009 At Swansea University in Wales

Organized by the Japan research group on former coalfields (JaFCof) + NPO Memories of Coal Mining Promotion Agency + Archival Institute for Life-Course Studies, Waseda University
Sponsored by Sapporo Gakuin University, Swansea University, Japan Society for the Promotion of Science, British Academy, and Daiwa Anglo-Japanese Foundation

Reference URL

Studies on the Joban coal mine at Waseda University (former Archival Institute for the Joban coal mine) http://www.tankou.org/
South Wales Coalfield Collection (Swansea University) http://www.swan.ac.uk/swcc/

Local movement

NPO Memories of Coal Mining Promotion Agency http://www.soratan.com/
Joban Coalfield History Society http://www6.ocn.ne.jp/~tanden/index.html

Research results including

"Social sciences pursuit: Coal mines and local communities" Faculty of Social Sciences, Waseda University, 1963
"The Discharge of Five Thousand Coal Miners and their Life-Course Transitions" (Archival Institute for the Joban Coal Mine, Waseda University: Part I 1998,Part II 1999,Part III 2000,Part IV 2001,Part V 2002,Part VI 2003,Part VII 2004,Part VIII 2005,Part IX 2006,and Part X 2007)
Naoko Shimazaki, 2004 "Process for decision of reemployment of discharged coal miners - Micro data analysis at the time of the mine closure of the Joban Coal Mine K.K. in 1971", Proceedings of the Graduate School of Letters, Arts and Sciences, Waseda University, No. 49, pp. 43-56
Naoko Shimazaki, 2007, "Attempt to establish comprehensive digital archives and their meaning: Example of the Joban coal mine archives" Project Study, Vol. 2, pp. 1-12

Naoko Shimazaki / Professor on the Faculty of Letters, Arts and Sciences, Waseda University

After graduating from the Department of Sociology in the School of Arts and Science at Tokyo Woman's Christian University, the author completed the Master's course for social sciences in the Graduate School of Letters, Arts and Science at Waseda University, and then earned the credits for the Doctoral course. After experience as a research associate at Waseda University, as an assistant professor and associate professor at the University of the Air, and as an associate professor in the School of Letters, Arts, and Sciences at Waseda University, she was promoted to her current position. Professor Shimazaki specializes in life course theory and family sociology. She is also the director of the Archival Institute for life course studies.
Her main works include "Structure and change of modern families" (co-author/co-editor / University of Tokyo Press), "Life-course as sociology" (author / Gakubunsha Co., Ltd.), "Rules for understanding society" (author / Gakubunsha Co., Ltd.), "Sociological research data and its analysis (author / Transart), "Modern society and life experience" (co-author / The Society for the Promotion of the University of the Air), and "Life course theory" (co-author / The Society for the Promotion of the University of the Air).