In the summer of 1918, “rice riots” swept the country. They began in a fishing village on the Sea of Japan in remote Toyama Prefecture. By September, some 2 million people in hundreds of municipalities had taken to the streets. They looted, bombed, demonstrated, struck.
The immediate cause was wartime inflation, especially the soaring price of rice. Rural and urban alike, the poor reeled. In the cities, factory hands toiled long hours for low pay under slave-like conditions. Industrialization comes at a cost and they were paying it. “The most violent strikes in Japanese history occurred in this period,” writes American historian Herbert Bix (in “Hirohito and the Making of Modern Japan,” 2000).
The Russian Revolution was in full swing. Authorities were alarmed. Was Japan going Bolshevik? Some 25,000 “rice rioters” were arrested. Suspected ringleaders were hanged. The liberal newspaper Toyo Keizai Shimpo editorialized in disgust, “Unfortunately the political process in our country works effectively only for the property-owning minority. … In one sense it is possible to say that those without property have no government at all.”
Read the rest of the story: Revolution was in the air during Japan’s Taisho Era, but soon evaporated into the status quo.