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Friday, May 19, 2017

Chimney Man

On November 16, 1930, a Japanese man climbed to the top of the 40-meter tall smokestack at the Kawasaki factory of the Fuji Gas and Textile Company.

A strike had been going on at the company for more than 40 days, and the man wanted to show support for his fellow workers.

Kawasaki Hujibo (28) climbed the chimney, waved a red flag and gave a speech discussing the strike and urging the strikers to not give up hope.

Media immediately called him “Chimney Man” because the media is prone to a lack of imagination.

Thousands of people gathered to watch Chimney Man pretty much sit up on the chimney “landing” for 132 hours, who sat, ate and slept up there.

Enterprising merchants set up dozens of food stalls down below… perhaps waiting for the young rebel to do more.

Below, strike officials made food for Chimney Man: five rice balls, a pot of hot o-cha (green tea) and a procured bottle of wine… though I am unsure if that is grape wine or rice wine (o-sake). I would assume o-sake.

In 1930 Japan, the country was reeling economically. While the great financial disaster of the U.S. in 1929 (Wall Street Stock Market Crash) had not yet affected Japan, the country was reeling from unemployment, labor strikes and starvation.

There were poor crops, which meant that farmers made little and starved.

Even when the farmers had a good crop of rice, for example, it drove the prices down meaning farmers were unable to survive.

After his third day up on the chimney, the factory owners tried to smoke Kawasaki down by starting up the furnaces, but he defiantly yelled down that he wouldn’t quit because of a little smoke.

The embarrassed factory officials then thought they could spray him down with water, but the local fire department was unsuccessful in their attempt.

Kawasaki would taunt the officials calling their efforts “kid’s games” saying he would remain up there until they met his demands.

However… things on the ground began to take on a more serious tone—embarrassment.

Because the Emperor would arrive in the area to view some Army field maneuvers, the factory leaders concluded that if he saw Chimney Man up there it would bring shame and dishonor to the factory.

As such, the factory acquiesced to the strikers’ demands and Chimney Man came down from his perch, a local hero after 132 hours or six days in total.

There is no information on-line, as far as I can see, except for data in the book Media, Propaganda and Politics in 20th-Century Japan by The Asahi Shimbun Company.

I only learned of it from a manga graphic novel created by Mizui Shigeru (surname first) who created his four-part history books. The Chimney Man incident is from his first book Showa 1926-1939: A History Of Japan. The image above is artwork of the scene by Mizui.

Given to me by my buddy Vinnie, the manga is an easy to read historically accurate representation of the time period that should be required reading in Japanese elementary schools.

Thanks Vinnie.

As for Chimney Man… he lives on now in three places in the Internet.

Andrew Joseph

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