The Kawamata Incident (川俣事件)

The Kawamata Incident was a struggle that took place on February 13, 1900 in Kawamata, Sanuki Village, Oura County, Gunma Prefecture (the present Meiwa Town, Gunma Prefecture) between police and peasants who were marching to Tokyo to protest to the Meiji government against the Ashio Copper Mine Mineral Pollution Incident. At that time this incident was called the Collective Rioting Incident. This incident is also known as a large scale rally and the event for suppression of speech in the Meiji period.

Of those 67 peasants arrested in the Kawamata Incident, 51 persons were charged with mass rioting, but on December 25, 1902 the Sendai Court of Appeal finally decided to drop the case and none of them were charged with any crimes.

The First Demonstration - The Third Demonstration
As the mining pollution damage caused by the Ashio copper mine became serious, Shozo TANAKA, a member of the House of Representatives, set up a mining damage office for both Ibaragi and Gunma Prefecture on October 4, 1896 at Unryu-ji Temple in Watase Village, Oura County, Gunma Prefecture (the present Tatebayashi City, Gunma Prefecture.)

Peasants gathered and decided to go to Tokyo for the first petition on March 2, 1897. There were no words to describe such a citizens' movement in Japan at that time. So peasants called it "Tokyo Taikyo Oshidashi" (Demonstration in full force in Tokyo). The number of demonstrators was 2,000. Peasants walked to Tokyo carrying their rice with them and took a few days to get to Tokyo. There was a railway to Tokyo, but peasants went to Tokyo on foot because they were so poor that they could not afford to buy train tickets due to the mining damages. In the first demonstration, peasants was able to meet Takeaki ENOMOTO, the Minister of Agriculture and Commerce, who visited the copper-poisoned area in Ashio right after the meeting with the peasants.

Peasants felt Enomoto's inspection was not good enough and went to Tokyo again on March 24, 1897. (As a matter of fact, Enomoto was very shocked to see the polluted area and instantly decided to set up the first Ashio Copper Mine Survey Committee.) It is said to have mobilized 7,000 people for investigation. On their way to Tokyo, peasants found that a floating bridge in Kawamata had been removed by the police and in anger they swam to the other side of the river and hitched up boats.
(Some people say that the floating bridge had been removed simply because peasants arrived too late. In those days floating bridges were usually removed by the midnight.)
In Iwatsuki City peasants were confronted with the police at Horin-ji Temple and the police told them to stop their demonstration. Most peasants except 75 representatives went back home. Only three representatives managed to get to the Ministry of Agriculture and Commerce, but they had no chance to meet the Minister and went back home.

Peasants suffered another serious damages from the massive slugs released from the burst of the sedimentation pond built by the Ashio Copper Mine Survey Committee. Mainly due to this reason peasants started off for Tokyo on September 26, 1898 for the third mass demonstration. Over 10,000 peasants left for Tokyo from Unryu-ji Temple.
About 2,500 peasants managed to reach Hokima Hikawa-jinja Shrine in Fuchie Village, Minamiadachi County, Tokyo Prefecture (the present Adachi Ward, Tokyo.)
At this place, military policemen (Japanese army) and the police told them to stop demonstration. Shozo TANAKA, who had played an important role in establishment of a mining damage office, also persuaded them. Tanaka, who then was a member of the ruling party, thought he would be able to settle down this problem through discussion with the Minster of Agriculture and Commerce. Peasants accepted Tanaka's advice and went home, leaving fifty representatives. The peasant representatives met Masami OISHI, the Minister of Agriculture and Commerce through Tanaka's good offices. Shortly after that, however, the administration collapsed and Tanaka became the opposition lawmaker. After all their talks came up dry.

The Fourth Demonstration (the Kawamata Incident)
No consistent testimony was given at the trial of the Kawamata Incident. It is no surprise that there were gaps between the police and peasants in their testimonies, but there were gaps in claims between peasants, too. Thus, the details are still unspecified. The court eventually decided to drop the case, so the true account of the Kawamata Incident has not been clarified. Many researchers think the testimony given by peasants are more exact than those given by the police, but many of peasants' testimony had no proof.

In February 1900 the peasants held a secret meeting and discussed the next demonstration. Tanaka, who had previously dissuaded peasants from going for the demonstration, was now agreeable to their plan and decided to put questions to the National Diet session on the day of the demonstration. The date of the demonstration was confidential to prevent the leakage to the police. Only the information on the articles necessary for the demonstration was given from peasant to peasant by mouth. However, the information about the plan except the date of the demonstration was actually passed to the police, who put out feelers in the peasants' assembles.

Around 11:00pm on February, 12 the Unryu-ji Temple's gong was tolled without a pause. At the sound of the gong, surrounding temples started to toll their gongs continuously. In response to these sounds distant temples also began tolling their gongs. It is said that the sounds of the temple bells was heard up to about 80 kilometers away. Some temples stopped tolling the temples' gongs at the police command, however, it was waste of labor, because the neighboring temples never stopped tolling the gongs. How to give a signal was almost the same as the way of the previous third demonstration.

There were about 700 to 800 peasants at Unryu-ji Temple at 1:00am on February 13. The police ordered to wind up, but the peasants refused. Peasants said the police were very rude and entered the temple with their shoes on.

On that day many peasants came to Unryu-ji Temple from early morning. The exact number of the demonstrators is unknown, but the Mining Damage Office announced that 12,000 peasants participated in this demonstration. Many researchers, however, say the correct figure was 2,500 which the police had announced. At nine o'clock peasants crossed the Watarase-gawa River running nearby Unryu-ji Temple and headed toward Tatebayashi City. Fifty policemen from Gunma Police were there to watch peasants, but peasants broke through police barriers.

Right after that, peasants stationed on the right side of the Watarase-gawa River joined the procession. Some researchers say that the number of 12,000 demonstrators includes those who joined the procession later.

When demonstrators came to Tatebayashi Town, they were confronted by ten policemen, but demonstrators broke through them. Around 11 o'clock the police tried to arrest several demonstrators in front of Tatabayashi Police Office and some were injured. Police said they tried to arrest demonstrators because one demonstrator tried to break into the police office mounting on a horse. However, the person in question said he was arrested together with his horse. Anyhow it is still unknown what actually happened there. After the judgment, some peasants said that demonstrators first threw stones to the police office.

After a scrimmage with policemen, demonstrators headed toward a floating bridge in Kawamata after noon. In those days there were no bridges over the Tone-gawa River and the only way to cross the river was to use a floating bridge in Kawamata. There were quintuple defense barriers made by riot police between Oura irrigation canal and the Tone-gawa River, so demonstrators avoided that route and followed the route led by boatmen. From their bitter experience in the demonstration before last, peasants had made arrangement of boats in case the floating bridge had been removed by the police.

(According to some peasants) the police made a raid upon peasants right after they gave a winding-up order and arrested demonstrators who were carrying the headmost boat. Some of the accused demonstrators who were carrying the boat claimed in court that they heard no winding-up orders. Injured demonstrators were taken to Shinnyo-ji Temple and received medical treatment. Many of the peasants in Kawamata had compassion for the demonstrators and took care of them. On this day fifty demonstrators were arrested. The police arrested the persons whom they regarded as ringleaders on February 14 and 15 and totally sixty-seven demonstrators were arrested.

The peasant movement was put to rout and broken up at this point. Several dozens or several hundreds of peasants managed to get to Tokyo, which route is still unknown, however, they made no petition to the government.

Shozo TANAKA, however, was not informed what was going on in Kawamata when he was raising questions about the copper-mine poisoning at the National Diet session. After he knew about the Kawamata Incident, he questioned about this incident again two days later. By the way, the date of demonstration was selected to coincide with the day when Tanaka would pose a question about a mining pollution problem at the National Diet session.

No weapons or violence was used at the all six demonstrations. Thus, many researchers think that it was unlikely that peasants first did violence to the police on the fourth demonstration which developed into an incident.

The newspaper reporters who witnessed the incident testified in court that the police did not use sabers or any other weapons. No one witnessed demonstrators using any weapons. Some said police threw sands at demonstrators and other said police and peasants both threw sands to each other.

Preliminary examination was conducted just after the incident. On July 9, fifty-one persons were found guilty (prosecution) and sixteen were exempted from prosecution. Those who were not accused were released. There is no record of torture or forced confession during the examination. However, some researchers say there were plenty of intentional mishearing by prosecutors in the investigation papers.

Five peasants were charged with collective rioting and Unryu-ji Temple's chief priest was charged with masterminding a riot and seventeen peasants were charged with fomenting a riot, and the rest of twenty-eight peasants were charged with a minor offense. Some of the peasants were charged with violating the Security Police Law. By the way, the Security Police Law was not yet enacted when the Kawamata Incident occurred on February 13, 1900. (Some researchers say the new law was adopted because the maximum sentence is lighter in a new law than an older law.
However, the amount of fines was higher in the Security Police Law.)

A large defense team consisted of sixty lawyers was organized at the first trial in Maebashi District Court. Sixty lawyers were all worked without recompense. However, ten lawyers never attended the public trial. The first public trial was held on October 10 and the sentence was passed on December 22. Two peasants were sentenced to two months' imprisonment for violating the Security Police Law and twenty-seven peasants were sentenced to fines and imprisonment from four months to two years for obstructing officers and twenty-one peasants were found innocent of any crime. None of the peasants were found guilty of mass rioting (one accused person died during the public court,) but it could be said that the sentence was given in line with the prosecution's claim because the peasants whom the prosecutions regarded as ringleaders were imposed on a heavy penalty, even though they were not at the incident site.

The prosecutions appealed against a sentence. Fifty defendants including those who were found not guilty appealed against their sentence. Twenty-two prisoners were all moved to Tokyo on January 20, 1901 and once released by March 28 before the court was held.
(Some prisoners were imprisoned again later.)

The first public trial of the appellate court was held at the Tokyo Court of Appeal on September 20 and through this the Kawamata Incident received a greater attention from the mass media in Tokyo. The defense succeeded in making judges to inspect the mine-poisoned area. The mass media also went to the poisoned area and the copper-mine poisoning problem became widely known among them in Tokyo. Particularly Yorozu Choho, Yokohama Mainichi Shimbun (It is unrelated to the present Mainichi Shimbun), Yomiuri Shimbun reported daily on the copper-mining problem and also about Shozo TANAKA's direct appeal to the emperor. People showed strong interest in this problem and groups of students visited the poisoned area and the Ashio Mine.

The Fifth Demonstration and The Sixth Demonstration
It was announced that sentence would be passed on March 15, 1902. Then peasants held the fifth and the sixth demonstrations on February 19 and March 2 respectively.
Peasants started for the fifth demonstration not from formerly-used Unryu-ji Temple but from Yosei-ji Temple in Toshima Village, Saitama Prefecture (the present Kitakawabe Town.)
About 1100 peasants came to Unryu-ji Temple to join the demonstration, but under the strict supervision by the police only 700 peasants who started from Yosei-ji Temple managed to go to Tokyo. Because there were quite a number of female demonstrators, the fifth demonstration was called Women Demonstration. Five female demonstrators were able to meet the president of the House of Peers (Japan), Atsumaro KONOE.

Two thousand peasants started from Yosei-ji Temple for the sixth demonstration and of those peasants, seven persons met the Minister of Agriculture and Commerce, Tosuke HIRATA. Through their talks, the Minister promised to set up the Second Mine Poison Survey Committee. As a matter of fact, the government had already decided before their talks to form another Mine Poison Survey Committee and it had not been officially announced. On March 15, the Second Mine Survey Committee was established. On the other day 150 demonstrators intruded into the office of the Ministry of Home Affairs but the Minister of Home Affairs refused to meet them.

Judgment of the Appellate Court
The court sentenced one person to 15 days in prison and two persons to fines. It was almost like overall victory for the peasants. The prosecution appealed against the sentence. All forty-seven defendants including those who were found innocent also appealed acquittals of all defendants to the Supreme Court.

After documentary examination, the Supreme Court decided on May 11 to overturn the appellate court's ruling that none of the defendants were innocent and remanded the case to the lower courts. The Supreme Court turned down an appeal from eleven persons who had been found innocent and then they were finally convicted of innocence. The case was transferred to the Sendai Court of Appeal. Some researchers say the trial was held at a court different from the previous court because that would put a greater burden on peasants, but other researchers say it was customary to hold trials at a different court in those days.

Judgment by the Sendai Court of Appeal
The first public trial was held on November 27 at the Sendai Court of Appeal. The defense suddenly proclaimed that the prosecutors' appeal was legally invalid because the petition of appeal was not written in the prosecutors' handwriting.
(The Code of Criminal Procedure at that time stipulated that all documents must have autograph signatures, otherwise they were judged to be invalid.)
The defense team at the Tokyo Court as well as all defendants had not been informed of the fact that the prosecutors' appeal had no legal force. The case had been found null and void right from the beginning because the first indictment submitted to the Maebashi District Court had been written by someone else and not by the prosecutors themselves. The lawyers in Sendai had been aware of that from the first public trial, but they did not mention it because they knew it would soon reach the statute of limitations for those misdemeanors and wanted to draw out the trial. The Court investigated the signature after this trial and found no prosecutors' autographs in the documents. Then, on December 25 at the second public trial, the Court rendered a judgment that the case was invalid because there was no autograph of the prosecutor in the first bill.

It is still unknown how the lawyers in Sendai found that the bill had no autographs and how they obtained the autographs of the prosecutors in Maebashi City which was far from Sendai. Some researchers say lawyers in Sendai City came to keep their eyes peeled for signatures in the documents, since there were many cases in Tohoku region where rapists received sentence of acquittal owing to the fact that there were no autographs of rape victims in the paper. Meanwhile, the Code of Criminal Procedure was later revised and victims no longer need to autograph in the documents.

Since the statute of limitation in the Kawamata Incident was not completed at this point, the prosecution could have brought up the case but they did not. It is said that it was because they wanted to prevent the another rising tide of public opinion. Meanwhile, several defendants were re-imprisoned on December 23, just before the second public trial. Some researchers think this action demonstrates the intention of re-prosecuting.

Effects of the Kawamata Incident
The movement against the copper poisoning died down after the Kawamata Incident. Some researchers say it was because leading activists were arrested at the Incident and because peasants were afraid that they might also be arrested. Shozo TANAKA also made a similar comment in 1901.

However, some researchers say the Kawamata Incident or the trials of the Kawamata Incident had nothing to do with weakening of the opposition movement because two demonstrations, the fifth and the sixth, were staged after that. Many of those researchers who supported this idea consider that the movement weakened when the peasants in the copper poisoned area had a rich harvest from autumn in 1903 onward.

On June 11, 1958, 56 years after the sixth demonstration the seventh demonstration was held. The peasants living in Morita Village practiced the demonstration to the Furukawa Mining Industry in Ashio Town by the Ashio Line.

Shozo TANAKA, a member of the House of Representatives and a leader of the peasant movement, announced his departure from the Kenseihon Party which he was then affiliated when he was questioning the Kawamata Incident at the Diet meeting on February 15, 1900.

Event After the Kawamata Incident
Hundred years after the event, the monument of the Kawamata Incident was set up at the scene of the incident in Meiwa Town, Oura County, Gunma Prefecture on February 13, 2000.

[Original Japanese]