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176 6 h e l l at t h e hōj ō C o l l i e r y I n Fukuoka Prefecture, the area around the Onga River, which flows south to north as it carves its way through the ancient provinces of Chikuzen and Buzen, is referred to as the Chikuhō region. In Japan, to say “Chikuhō” is essentially to say “coal,” though today one is struck equally by the area’s limestone mines, which have conspicuously decapitated entire mountains. There is a good reason to conflate “Chikuhō” and “coal”: the region boasts some of Japan’s richest coalfields, and its history is steeped in the triumphs and tragedies of coal mining. Coal extracted from Chikuhō fueled Japan’s modernization in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries (the region produced about half of Japan’s total coal in the late Meiji era); the region also became home to thousands of forcibly displaced Koreans who were recruited as labor within Japan’s expanding empire. These Koreans died in droves in the Chikuhō coalfields. Today, ornate redbrick buildings, towering smokestacks, and slag heaps that loom dramatically over modest farming villages stand as monuments to this tumultuous past. So do ubiquitous street gangs and “Pachinko Pros,” who remain mired in poverty despite their gambling skills: with coal shafts filled with groundwater , Chikuhō is now famous for its welfare recipients. Up to now, this book has explored three keys to Japan’s modern industrialization : scientific agriculture and pesticide application, copper, lead, Hell at the Hōjō Colliery 177 and zinc mining, and the nitrogen fixation technologies that produced fertilizers and plastics. This chapter turns our attention to the coal that, when burned in locomotives, factories, and steamships, produced the calories that fueled Japan’s rise to industrial prominence. Our interest, however, is quite specific: this chapter focuses on a 15 December 1914 explosion at the Hōjō colliery that left 687 people dead, as well as a handful of nonhuman animals. It stands as the largest mining disaster on Japanese soil (though not, as we will see, at a mine under Japanese control).1 It is of interest because the explosion was the result of hybrid contexts and causations: carefully engineered subterranean environments conducive to extracting thousands of tons of coal interfaced with naturally occurring methane-gas deposits. Miners labored alongside mechanical ventilation and dampening systems, which sought to keep methane and coal dust suppressed; mules and horses pulled ore carts alongside electric lifts called “cages” that lowered miners deep into Earth at ear-popping speeds. The Hōjō mine functioned as a hybrid system comprising biological and mechanical parts; but it was precisely the holistic, integrated nature of these biological and mechanical parts that caused the unanticipated 1914 explosion at the site that killed so many. This chapter contains a systems analysis of the technological risks associated with fueling modern nations. F u e l i n g M e i j i When historians teach students about the Meiji years (1868–1912), two slogans are scratched on chalkboards across the country: bunmei kaika, “civilization and enlightenment,” and fukoku kyōhei, “rich country and strong military.” The latter of these two slogans relates to Japan’s coal-mining history, because both the industry that was to make Japan rich and the military that was to make Japan strong demanded caloric energy, just as an organism does. Recall from the introduction: ecological food chains and food webs are essentially about the transference of energy; and in some respects the politics of nations are, too. In the early Meiji years, energy from coal found its way into steam trains, steamships, and cauldrons for the salt industry. But after the Sino-Japanese War of 1895, coal also fueled industrial development and war. Just as the Sino-Japanese War represented a turning point in the zinc- and lead-mining industry, so too did it signal the birth of Japanese heavy industry and ramped-up extraction of the 178 Hell at the Hōjō Colliery coal that fueled large factories. This book, in many respects, has been the story of the ecological footprint of Meiji modernization, both its industrial development and its empire-building projects. The connection between war, industrial development, and resource extraction is not a whimsical one. Many of the prominent German economists who so intrigued Japanese pundits and politicians in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries saw a direct relationship between war, or at least preparation for war, and large...


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