During the First World War, many countries participating in the World War suffered from severe food shortages, as most governments preferred to allocate their food resources to soldiers present on the battlefronts and to adopt a quota system for the rest of the people.
During the war years, these factors resulted in the outbreak of famine in many countries such as Russia, Austria and Germany, in which about 700,000 of its residents died due to malnutrition.
Concurrently, at the end of World War I, during the reign of Emperor Taishō, Japan experienced a similar situation where the price of rice, which was the popular food for many Japanese, skyrocketed and caused the start of violent protests nicknamed the rice protests.
Rice price hike
The increase in rice prices resulted in the explosion of an economic crisis in Japan, especially in the rural areas whose population relied heavily on it for their diet.
During that period, the Japanese peasants expressed their discontent with the price laws of rice, which forced them to sell it to merchants at a cheap price compared to its real high price in the Japanese market.
The rise in the price of rice at that time was added to the wave of high prices and inflation that the world has experienced since the beginning of the twentieth century, when the prices of houses, building materials and services recorded a significant increase compared to what they were in the past.
Japanese forces in Siberia
Faced with their low incomes, a large number of Japanese found themselves facing a real crisis coinciding with the rise in the price of rice, which represented the country’s popular food.
By the middle of 1918, the Japanese government resorted to a bad decision, through which it deliberately purchased a significant amount of rice stocks in the country to support its soldiers who penetrated Siberia in an international military operation directed against the Bolsheviks who seized power in Russia.
Because of this decision, the protests spread in Japan to reach the largest cities whose residents are pessimistic about the continued rise in the price of rice.
Protests and riots
The rice protests of 1918 were one of the largest in modern Japanese history. The first protests broke out on July 23, 1918 in the coastal city of Uozu, inhabited by a large number of fishermen, in Toyama Prefecture.
In the beginning, the protests were peaceful, during which the organizers tried to collect the largest number of signatures against the high price of rice.
Gradually, the situation deteriorated, and these protests turned into riots, strikes, evictions and thefts of shops. In addition, protesters in Japanese cities attacked and burned postal and police stations.
According to the statistics of that period, the year 1918 witnessed more than 600 acts of sabotage involving nearly two million Japanese in hundreds of cities. In addition, Japanese police reports spoke of the protesters’ use of firearms and Molotov cocktails.
Until the 1918 rice protests resulted in the resignation of Prime Minister Terauchi Masatake.
Simultaneously, the Japanese authorities launched a campaign of arrests, which resulted in the arrest of 25,000 people, of whom 8,000 were convicted and received sentences ranging mainly from imprisonment to death.