When we talk about Japan, the last thing we think of is violence, revolt, chaos and riot. Japan today is very civilized and modern. Unlike Brazil, Japan does not experience any political and/or social crisis.
But it was not always so.
The Rice Uprising of 1918 was a series of popular riots that erupted in Japan in 1918. The riots resulted in the collapse of the Terauchi Masatake government (Japan's prime minister at the time).
From July to September 1918, Japan was swept by a wave of uprisings from rural fishing villages to large industrial centers and coal fields. It was the biggest turmoil in Japan to date, from the unrest during the 1868 Meiji Restoration.
The revolt was a response to wartime inflation, low wages and commodity speculation. The price of rice doubled in a short time, and the prices of other consumer goods also increased, while wages remained low. Japan was also subject to a flu pandemic in 1918-1919 like much of the rest of the world.
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Cause of the Rice Revolt
The beginning of the 20th century for Japan was a drastic time. At the same time that Japan was colonizing Korea and Manchuria and was in the midst of a world war, the nation was going through complicated economic situations. A precipitous rise in the price of rice caused extreme hardship in rural areas, where rice was the main consumption.
Farmers began to act with hostility towards rice traders and government officials who allowed the consumer price to spiral out of control.
The rise in the price of rice came at the height of a post-World War I inflationary spiral. The inflationary crisis affected most consumer goods and rentals. Therefore, urban dwellers also began to act aggressively against merchants and government officials.
The Siberian Intervention further aggravated the situation, with the government buying stocks of rice to feed Japanese soldiers. This pushed up rice prices even further. Eventually, government intervention in economic affairs caused rural protests to spill over into cities.
The initial protest took place in the small fishing town of Uozu in Toyama Prefecture on July 23, 1918.
It began with peaceful petitions. But the disturbance quickly escalated into riots, strikes, looting, incendiary explosions at police stations and government offices, and armed clashes. In 1918, there were 417 separate disputes involving over 66,000 workers.
Results of the Rice Revolt
About 25,000 people were arrested. 8200 people were convicted of various crimes, with penalties ranging from minor fines to the death penalty. However, riots did not necessarily occur in the poorest areas. Not even among the poorest workers.
Assuming responsibility for the breakdown of public order, Prime Minister Terauchi Masatake and his cabinet resigned on 29 September 1918.