Mining Women pp 136-152 | Cite as

Invisible Labor: A Comparative Oral History of Women in Coal Mining Communities of Hokkaido, Japan, and Montana, USA, 1890–1940

  • Kayoko Yoshida
  • Reiko Miyauchi


This essay presents a comparison of working-class women in two coal mining communities of Hokkaido, Japan, and Montana, USA. These two seemingly different areas have actually been linked through similar frontier development policies and patterns since the late nineteenth century. When the government of Japan looked to develop agricultural and mineral resources in its northern frontier of Hokkaido after the Meiji Restoration in 1867, it introduced many of the same policies employed by the United States in developing its vast western lands, including forced removal and assimilation of the indigenous inhabitants. Japanese officials deepened the connection to the American West by inviting American development specialists to advise them on how to integrate the region as a vital part of the new modern nation. The development of resources and the formation of resource-based communities happened in similar ways in both Hokkaido and Montana.


Clay Dust Europe Amid Income 
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  1. 1.
    Recent works in English regarding Japan’s coal industry development and decline in Hokkaido clearly delineate the effects of mine closures on the community, but do not specifically detail the lives of women within the community. For example, see Suzanne Culter, Managing Decline: Japan’s Coal Industry; Restructuring and Community Response (Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1999). Works in Japanese regarding women’s labor in the Hokkaido mining communities include Junko Yamamoto, Labor Practices of Women Working in the Mines (Sapporo: Hokkaido Labor Institute, 1961); Hokkaido Miners’ Wives Association, The Mines Know Everything (Sapporo: Japan Miners’ Wives Association Hokkaido Chapter, 1973); Sapporo Women’s History Study Group, History of Women in the North (Sapporo: Hokkaido Shimbun Press, 1986).Google Scholar
  2. 3.
    Leona Lampi, At the Foot of the Beartooth Mountains: A History of the Finnish Community of Red Lodge, Montana (Coeur d’Alene, Idaho: Bookage Press, 1998), 52–53.Google Scholar
  3. 4.
    Great Britain first established legal restrictions on women’s underground work with the Mines and Collieries Act of 1842. The first piece of protective legislation for women in Germany, which along with Japan was considered as a latecomer in joining the industrialized nations, was enacted in 1878, which prohibited women from working underground in mines. See Ulla Wickander, Alike-Kessler Harris, and Jane Lewis, eds., Labor Legislation in Europe, the United States, and Australia, 1880–1920 (Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1995), 91–149.Google Scholar
  4. 5.
    Reiko Miyauchi, “Women Workers in Mines of Hokkaido,” Sapporo International University Journal 31 (2000): 122.Google Scholar
  5. 6.
    Yubari Municipal History Editorial Committee, Yubari Municipal History Vol. 2 (Yubari: City of Yubari, 1943), 513.Google Scholar
  6. 7.
    By the late 1980s, most of the women miners in Yubari, the coal kingdom of Hokkaido, were deceased. Reiko Miyauchi, then a journalist with a regional newspaper, interviewed the few surviving women miners and recreated their lives in the mines and in the mining community in a series of twenty articles called Women in Yubari (Sapporo: Hokkai Times, 1987). The information and excerpts for this essay come from that work.Google Scholar
  7. 10.
    Masato Kuwahara, Makio Yano, Teruichi Tanji, Modern Japan Seen from the Coal Development (Tokyo: Societe, 1978), 160–185.Google Scholar
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Copyright information

© Jaclyn J. Gier and Laurie Mercier 2006

Authors and Affiliations

  • Kayoko Yoshida
  • Reiko Miyauchi

There are no affiliations available

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