KOEDO-KAWAGOE

by Yumi Ryujin
Kawagoe Goodwill Ambassador for Tourism
 

§ No.29

Ishikawa-gumi Silk Reeling Company, Kawagoe Factory

Welcome to Kawagoe! Kawagoe is an old town whose history can be traced back to the Old Stone Age. I would like to tell you a story about the Kawagoe of olden times. This story is about "Ishikawa-gumi Silk Reeling Company (Ishikawa Seishi), Kawagoe Factory." This is number twenty-nine in the series of stories about Kawagoe.
 
The Opening of Japan to the World and Silk Reeling
Once upon a time, there were women who were called "silk thread princesses." They were engaged in the silk reeling industry which produced raw silk thread from cocoons, by hand. In Japan, silk worms have been treated as important from ancient times. They say that empresses raised them by themselves and encouraged the industry.
 
In June 1858, at the very end of the Edo Period, Ii Naosuke (1815-1860), Special Assistant to the Tokugawa Shogun, concluded the "Treaty of Amity and Commerce between the United States of America and the Empire of Japan." Japan, which had closed its doors to foreign countries for nearly 220 years, opened the ports of Kanagawa, Nagasaki, Niigata and Hyogo and trading started, mainly with England. Japan imported cotton and woolen goods, weapons and warships. It exported raw silk and green tea. Because the amount of imports exceeded that of exports drastically in 1867, the Meiji Government tried to increase exports. Since silk was the main export, the government established Tomioka Silk Mill in Gunma Prefecture in 1872, to mechanize silk production which had been done by hand for a long period of time. The government invited foreign engineers to introduce mechanical technology and gave training to girls whose families had been samurai and had lost their jobs after the Meiji Period started.
 
ISHIKAWA Ikutaro: Entrepreneur and
Founder of Ishikawa Seishi
 
ISHIKAWA Ikutaro By courtesy of Kawagoe City Education Board
ISHIKAWA Ikutaro
By courtesy of Kawagoe City Education Board
 
ISHIKAWA Ikutaro was born on a farm in 1855. In 1879, he began brokering green tea with the hope of exporting it. Four years later, at the age of 28, he went bankrupt because the company he relied on to generate export business failed. Next he turned his entrepreneurial attention to raw silk. Subsequently, in 1894, he established Ishikawa Seishi, a silk mill in Toyo-oka in Saitama Prefecture. In those days, in many places, silk reeling was still done by hand. However, he introduced machines using steam. He collected from farm villages as many as thirty girls as factory workers and started full-scale silk reeling. After the No.1 factory, the No.2 factory was established on the same site in 1902 and the No.3 factory, also named Ishikawa Seishi, was established in Kitakubo-cho (now Sankubo-cho), Kawagoe in 1908.
 
The panoramic view of Ishikawa Seishi, Kawagoe Factory In Mr. SAITA Yoshiaki's possession By courtesy of Kawagoe City Museum
The panoramic view of Ishikawa Seishi, Kawagoe Factory
In Mr. SAITA Yoshiaki's possession
By courtesy of Kawagoe City Museum
 
ISHIKAWA Ikutaro, Christian
ISHIKAWA Ikutaro was a devout, baptized Christian. He made philanthropy his company policy and treated the female workers in his factories well. In those days, female factory workers, the daughters of poor farmers, worked for very low wages and in poor surroundings as the book Pathetic Life of Mill Girls shows. However, at Ishikawa Seishi accommodations and meals were provided by the company. It was a well-equipped business with welfare facilities, such as a recreation room and a clinic. The working time was 5:00 am to 7:00 pm. Employees could take only two days off monthly. But, the wages were so high that factory girls of other companies were envious, they say. Ishikawa Seishi's motto was to "work together and enjoy together." At Christmas, a festival was held at the hall. The workers sang hymns, children's songs and classics and they enjoyed eating sweet cakes. At 1916 record shows that the wages paid by Ishikawa Seishi were two to four times higher than those of other companies. By that time, more than fifty percent of the female workers remained at Ishikawa Seishi for five to ten years. The total number of female workers in the Kawagoe Factory reached 380. The silk-thread produced by the satisfied workers, who devoted themselves to the job, was always ranked No.1 in Saitama Prefecture in quality and shipping volume.
 
Two Chimneys
The Kawagoe Factory had four boilers and two high chimneys which emitted black smoke day after day. Thirty tons of coal were consumed daily. Thus, Ishikawa Seishi was prosperous. However, the silk reeling industry suffered a deadly blow when the Showa Financial Panic occurred in 1930. In addition, the appearance of rayon hit raw silk very hard. Ishikawa Seishi was renamed Kawagoe Seishi and after World War II it regained its strength by producing high-quality raw silk for high-class stockings. However, the Kawagoe Factory closed in 1954 as nylon overtook the market and the demand for silk decreased.
 
The Entrance of Ishikawa Seishi, Kawagoe Factory By courtesy of Kawagoe City Museum
The Entrance of Ishikawa Seishi, Kawagoe Factory
By courtesy of Kawagoe City Museum
 
Currently the Kawagoe Post Office and the Kawagoe Municipal Central Library stand on the land. A stake made of concrete which pulled the thick wires to support one of the chimneys still exist in the backyard of my house.
 
Please visit Kawagoe again! We welcome you!
 
©Yumi Ryujin   All rights reserved.
 

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