“Suzuki Bunji (1885-1946) and his contribution to the development of
workers’ education in Japan”
The lawyer Suzuki Bunji played a prominent role in the Japanese labour union and workers’ education movement during the first half of the 20th century.
Based on his Christian background and having experienced poverty himself, he developed an early interest in social topics. After graduating from the law department of the then Tōkyō Imperial University, he did not pursue an elite carrier in business or administration, but decided to become a journalist.
After working for the Tōkyō Mainichi Shinbun and the Unitarian Church he founded the “Friendship Society” (Yūaikai, 1912), which later developed into the “General Association of Japanese Workers” (Nihon Rōdō Sōdōmei), one of the biggest organizations of its kind in Japan. Besides of his duties as president of the Sōdōmei, Suzuki also was a prolific writer. In his many publications he dealt with topics like the history of the labour movement or the social situation of the workers, etc. As a union leader and writer Suzuki always encouraged a stronger class conscienceness among the workers, trying to give them a better social standing in the end. He regarded workers’ self- organization through unions as the means to achieve this aim.
Nevertheless he was not a radical revolutionist, but steadily tried to promote cooperation and not confrontation between the workers and the employers.
In this context Suzuki soon realized the importance of workers’ education and forcefully began to implement it. Among other activities he organized the first public lectures for workers (rōdōsha kōwakai, 1912), founded the “Workers’ Education Society” (Rōdōsha Kyōiku Kyōkai, 1921) and the “Japanese Workers’ School” (Nihon Rōdō Gakkō, 1921), the first union based workers’school in Japan, that later became a model for similar schools throughout the country, triggering the Japanese workers’ school movement (rōdō gakkō undō).
In this sense Suzuki gains historical importance not only as a union leader but also as an educator. At first glance, one might see him only as a successful union leader and careful organizer of the Japanese workers’ movement, and in Japanese academic circles he is mostly treated as such.
One might name the works of Yoshida Chiyo, among others. But in contrast to this, Suzuki’s manifold workers’ education activities have not been covered sufficiently by now, neither in Japanese nor in English, especially not in the form of a monography. That is why I take a special interest in showing the great union leader Suzuki Bunji as the pioneer of workers’ education that he actually was. That includes the attempt to collect all of Suzukis comments on education scattered throughout his numerous works, showing the link between his theoretical thoughts and his practice as an educator.
Presentation (in Japanese)
“Suzuki Bunji (1885-1946): Ein Pionier der japanischen Arbeiterbildung” (OAG
Taishō jidai ni okeru rōdōsha kyōiku kikan toshite no Yūai Shinpō (The Yūai Shinpō as a means of workers’ education in the Taisho era), given at the annual meeting of the “Japanese Association for Social Education” (Nihon Shakai Kyōiku Gakkai) in September 2000.
Gesellschaft für Japanforschung, GJF (German Association for Japanese
Nihon Shakai Kyōiku Gakkai (Japanese Association for Social Education)