Chichibu Incident (秩父事件)

The Chichibu Incident was an armed uprising that peasants in Chichibu County, Saitama Prefecture made against the government from October 31 to November 9, 1884. It had been assumed to be a representative example of so-called 'aggravated incidents' occurred under the influence of Jiyu Minken Undo (Movement for Liberty and People's Right).

Background

In a situation where taxes and so on had been increased year by year since the end of Edo period for the policy of fukoku kyohei (fortifying the country, strengthening the military), under the influence of so-called Matsukata finance by Masayoshi MATSUKATA, who assumed the post of the Ministry of Finance in October 1881, what we call a deflationary spiral occurred (Matsukata deflation), which brought a serious deflation in Japanese economy, especially in the agricultural sector. Prices of farm products continuing to fall, many regions among agricultural production regions, which were originally far from wealthy, were put into further poverty.

Due to domestic influences mainly of the above Matsukata finance and what was more, the influence of the steep fall in the silk market in Lyon Silk Exchange (which was then one of the biggest silk exchanges not only in France but also in Europe) occurring in 1882, the midst of the Great Depression in Europe, which existed from 1873 to 1896, the domestic prices of raw silk fell quite heavily from 1882 to 1803.

In Chichibu region in Saitama Prefecture sericulture had been thriving business for a long time, however, at that time the industry there was somewhat biased to raw silk production and in addition had been more strongly connected to the French market than other silk-farming regions such as Shinshu (Nagano Prefecture) (the first elementary school in the Chichibu County was established by French aid, therefore, a secretary in a French legation in Japan visited Chichibu) and as a result it had a greater influence of the above-mentioned heavy fall. Because many of silk-raising farmers, depending on their annual sales of raw silk, borrowed money for buying rice and wheat for food and other daily commodities and so on, the heavy fall of the raw silk market and increased taxes put them in further poverty as in other regions, and banks, usurers and so on, taking advantage of their poverty, made their lives more miserable.

At that time, the Meiji Government was promoting the preparation of the government-led formulation of a constitution and establishment of the National Diet while it was strengthening an ironfisted policy to democratic movements. Some minken (democratic rights) activists, against the suppression of the government, began to change into radicals urged by an idea that they could not avoid use of force in overthrowing the repressive government in order to establish a 'truly superb Diet', which caused confrontations to occur in various places.

So-called "aggravated incidents" such as Akita Incident in 1881, Fukushima Incident in 1882 and Takada Incident in 1883 are assumed that the Meiji Government cracked down on local democratic activists or democratic movements on the pretext of suppressing the view of the overthrow of the government by democratic radicals. After all the plot of overthrowing the government of the radicals was not realized, but in subsequent Gunma Incident occurred in June 1884, local members of the Liberal Party (Meiji period) in Gunma Prefecture, gathering peasants in poverty at the foot of Mt. Myogi, tried to raise an army against suppression and furthermore in Kabasan Incident occurred in September of the same year sixteen democratic radicals armed with bombs raised an army and encountered the police force.

Particularly, the Kabasan Incident was an armed uprising with an avowed slogan of 'defeating the government, the enemy of freedom' in order to 'establish perfect constitutional system of government' and gave a great blow to the government. It was quite small in scale and its immediate aim was only attacking high-ranking government officials who attended the Tochigi Prefectural Government inauguration ceremony: Since the latter half of 1833 of the previous year, the Liberal Party radicals had frequent meetings and were in a direction of strengthening the unity of the like-minded members.

Liberal Party approved a decision of dissolving the party on October 29, 1884 (two days before the occurrence of the Chichibu Incident) because of what with past policy confrontations and complications on solving the Kabasan Incident (thereafter, the Party was reorganized in 1890, but repeated dissolution, the re-formation, reorganization,and so on even after that. For details, see the Liberal Party (Meiji period). It is assumed that the leaders of Chichibu Incident had not got information on the dissolution of the Liberal Party at the time of the uprising.

Summary

In Chichibu region people, mainly members of the Liberal Party organized 'Konminto Party (Poverty Party)' together with peasants suffering from increased taxes and debt burdens and held the second rally called Sanrin Shukai (literally, "gathering of mountains and forest") in August, 1884. Based on the decisions they made there, they had petitioning activity and negotiations with usurers only to fail, therefore, an uprising was proposed in order to make an petition for tax reduction, postponement of compulsory education and deferment of debt to the government, and Eisuke TASHIRO, whose family acted as a nanushi (village headman) for generations in Omiyago (Chichibu City, Saitama Prefecture) was recommended for their representative. The purpose of the uprising was to make an petition for the abrogation of account books to usurers and public offices and tax reduction to the government without taking violent actions (see Martial Law below).

On October 31, two days after the dissolution of the Liberal Party, they held a rally in Muku Shrine in Shimoyoshida (former Yoshidamachi [Saitama Prefecture]), established the purpose of the uprising, a role chart and martial law. As early as on November 1, the next day, they brought Chichibu County under their control and destroyed documents of usurers and public offices (some took violent actions or set fire against the intention of the leaders).

However, the government, getting information on their uprising and its scale instantaneously by telegram that had already been in use at that time, sent a troop of police and military police (Japanese Army) partially by train only to face uphill fights, but finally soldiers in Tokyo Chindai Army (garrison in Meiji period) brought the county boundary under their control, leading the leaders of the Konmin Party to the collapse and subjugation on November 4. Some radicals led by Kanpei KIKUCHI from Kitaaiki-mura Village in Nagano Prefecture, together with peasants, advanced to Shinshu area via Toishi Pass; however, the troop was also destroyed by the attacks of the Chindai Army in Higashimanagashi in Saku County (now Koumimachi) on November 9. Afterwards, the main leaders and participants were arrested one after another in various places.

After the incident about 14000 people were punished and seven people who regarded as leaders including Eisuke TASHIRO, Orihei KATO, Shuzaburo ARAI, Zenkichi TAKAGISHI, Sosaku SAKAMOT, Kanpei KIKUCHI and Denzo INOUE were sentenced to death (however, Inoue and Kikuchi were tried in their absence. Inoue escaped to Hokkaido, and died there in 1918. Though Kikuchi was arrested in Kofu, his death sentence being commuted to life in prison, was released from prison in 1905, and died in 1914).

This incident had been assumed in the past to have occurred under the strong influence mainly of the Freedom and People's Rights Movement and the Matsukata deflation, however, in recent years, in addition to the above, there has been an increased need of studies considering then comparison to other sericulture areas, the influence of the above-mentioned international environments, comparison with other sericulture regions and the above-mentioned international environments influence, the ethnological situation peculiar to Chichibu district.

Organization of the Konminto Army

Role Table and Martial Law Presented in Muku Shrine on the Day of the Uprising

Role Table (part)

Others included roles such as an element leader in each village in Chichibu County, persons in charge of army provisions, war funds collecting, ammunition, a leader of gunnery troop, provision transporters, messengers and so on.

Martial Law

Article 1 Those who loot money and goods for private benefits shall be slain. Article 2 Those who commit rapes shall be slain. Article 3 Those who give a feast shall be slain. Article 4 Those who set fire, use violence and so on from personal grudges shall be slain. Article 5 Those who do something private against orders of commanders shall be slain.

First year of Free Autonomy'

The name of the era, 'First year of Free Autonomy' used by the Konminto Party members and their sympathizers, was regarded as a shinengo (private name of a era) in the end term in Japanese history.

Notes

A historian, Daikichi IROKAWA, who participated in compiling "Chichibu Jiken Siryo Hensan (A Collection of Chichibu Incident Data) ", through an analysis of documents of the Meiji Government, pointed out that the incident was taken by the government a 'revolt' equivalent to the Seinan War (the interrogation record included a description of a confession that the final goal of the participants was 'to defeat the Emperor'). Masanori SATO also pointed out that 'the Chichibu Incident occurred not because peasants in Chichibu were poor, but because they got angry to have their lives smashed up when they were gradually becoming rich'.