Masai Mine (政井みね)

Mine MASAI (February 3, 1888 - November 20, 1909) was a Japanese worker. She was one of the anonymous workers who contributed to the modernization of Japan, and the essential person to tell sad stories of factory girls who once went over the Nomugi Pass.

Mine MASAI was born in a farming community of Kawai Village, Yoshiki County, Gifu Prefecture (present Tsunogawa, Kawai-cho, Hida City, Gifu Prefecture). In those days, it was still common in poor farming community to let members go out to town and work for reducing the mouths to feed (it had been called 'Kuchi-berashi'), and Mine was also sent to Okaya City in Shinshu to help her family. Under the policy of governments of the Meiji period 'Fukoku Kyohei' (fortifying the country, strengthening the military), the filature in Suwa area of Nagano Prefecture where richly endowed with water supported modernization of Japan to earn foreign currency, and many female workers like Mine reluctantly left their family home and went over the Nomugi Pass for work, that was quite usual in those days.

14 year-old Mine departed to Okaya in Shinshu with more than 100 female workers in February, 1903, and it was the time when the weather condition became worst to cross the Nomugi Pass which was famous as a dangerous spot for transportation. The remaining snow brutally cut the feet of the girls like a knife. That was why it was said "the snow of Nomugi was dyed in red." Some of them took a misstep and fell into the valley, and some could not find a space in the lodging on the pass (called 'Otasuke-jaya' literally, saving teahouse) and had to spend a night outside in a snowstorm.

Mine was assigned to a filature, Yamaichibayashi-gumi, where she faced a harsh condition to work that is not remotely comparable to the condition of today. In addition to a long working hours of over 15 hours, humidity and foul odor of the factory made working there even more difficult, and also the factory was surrounded by iron fences to prevent the female workers from escaping like a jail; however, a lot of girls including Mine endured with gritted teeth in order to help their family with their wages, believing they would see their parents again when the factory would be closed for the new year holiday.
(As a result, the export of raw silk thread made up one third of the total amount of export of Japan at that time.)

Time passed and Mine became an exemplar of the factory and her annual income reached more than 100 yen (these workers were called "100 yen female worker"), however she suffered a sudden illness of severe peritonitis. Receiving the news, Mine's elder brother Tasujiro came to pick her up and suggested her to stay in a hospital in Matsumoto City, however, Mine probably knew her death was close and refused her brother's proposal and decided to go back to her hometown, Hida. Unwillingly Tatsujiro carried Mine on his back and headed to Hida. On their way to Hida, when they arrived to the teahouse on the Nomugi Pass where many workers lost their lives, Mine was pleased and said "Oh, I can see Hida," then breathed her last breath. She died at 2pm on November 20, 1909, at the age of mere 20.

This historical fact became famous by described in the novel "Ah, Nomugi Toge" (Oh, the Nomugi Pass) by Shigemi YAMAMOTO, and today, a hundred years after Mine's death, still many people visit the memorial in the Nomugi Pass and her grave in Sensho-ji temple in Tsunogawa, Kawai-cho, Hida City to commemorate her death.