It is not the habit of this journal to publish reviews of commemorative publications aimed at propaganda, as this book is at first glance. “Glückauf” auf Japanisch was published to commemorate the arrival of Japanese miners in the Ruhr in the 1950s and 1960s and hopes to contribute to the “further development of friendly economic relations” between Japan and Germany, more specifically Rhineland-Westphalia. The book is nevertheless interesting as a “case” of migration history.
In general, postwar labour recruitment in Germany was highly selective. It systematically excluded potential migrants of African and Asian origin in favour of Europeans (including “guest workers” from Turkey).Footnote 1 Why, then, was an exception made in the case of miners from Japan, and later also Korea? The book provides answers to this question (without the authors explicitly noting the exceptional nature of these cases, however), especially in the chapters written by Regine Mathias and Werner Pascha. Mathias shows that, in the 1950s, Japan was still largely dependent on domestic supplies of coal to meet its energy needs. After World War II a programme of mechanization and rationalization was launched, based mainly on German technology. But even by the mid-1950s Japan still lagged behind. Miners were sent to Germany in the hope that they could learn something about the modern mining techniques being applied there. However, experience in German mining was sought not only because it gave workers an opportunity to learn about modern mining methods; Germany also had “modern” labour relations, in the form of Mitbestimmung and worker–employer cooperation. Another important motive for sending Japanese miners to Germany was to learn about these kinds of industrial relations, which were associated with a “free and democratic country”.
Why was this so important? Because it was in sharp contrast to the antagonistic labour relations of the period in the Japanese coal industry. From the end of the war, industrial relations in mining were characterized by major confrontations between miners’ trade unions and employers, with the radical, communist-oriented Tanrō championing the miners’ struggle. Strikes were frequent, especially in protest at the effects of rationalization policies in the mines. One of the main reasons for sending miners to Germany was to expose them to more peaceful and cooperative industrial relations. In the eyes of the Japanese government, Japanese miners had not only to become acquainted with modern, rationalized mines, but also to learn to accept and comply with measures aimed at rationalization, as the German unions had, unlike their radical Japanese counterparts.
Between 1957 and 1965 this wish on the part of the Japanese government resulted in the arrival of 436 Japanese miners. The Germans accepted this because of labour shortages in the German mines. Initially, these motives did not really coincide, but in the 1960s the intentions of the Japanese changed: miners were now primarily being sent to Germany to alleviate unemployment in Japanese mining as a consequence of further rationalization and mine closures. The booming Japanese economy of that period could easily absorb unemployed miners, however, so in the end many fewer miners opted to go to Germany than originally intended. A solution was found in the recruitment of Koreans for the German mines, not by accident in my view, through the intermediation of the US Development Organization in South Korea, which drew on the example set by the Japanese.Footnote 2 The migrants were selected by the South Korean government on the basis of their proven anti-communist views,Footnote 3 but nevertheless they took part in several strikes in Germany to demand equal treatment.Footnote 4
All this shows that the arrival of Japanese and later Korean miners in Germany had a specific political background. As for the Japanese, their recruitment failed as soon as they became part of the normal German “guest worker” programme in the 1960s. The Koreans who came in the wake of the Japanese and were accepted by the Germans because of the Japanese example fitted much better into this programme, but they were still subject to ideological and political pressures and constraints imposed by the South Korean government at home.