I HAVE EXPERIENCED work in four different factories. The following is a compilation of my experiences and those of colleagues that have been in other factories or prisons.
This is a description of the type of work to which the majority of inmates are engaged or assigned. It must be noted that certain “specially qualified artisans”, or those with some required skills are assigned to more specific labour; such as electricians, food preparation/serving, clerical work, etc. However, these exceptions would, in reality, constitute no more than 10 % of the total population of Osaka prison.
The work is, in general, monotonous and requires simple manual tasks. These can range from assembling and folding paper bags, to the sewing by hand or machine of garments such as under-kimonos. As an example, my assigned work, for the past four years has been hand-sewing the seams of under-kimonos with 1-2mm stitches placed in 1cm or 2 cm intervals. Boring and monotonous hardly are sufficient to describe this soul-and-mind-destroying task!
Work duration is, generally, from 7:45am to 16:00pm, with two tea breaks of ten minutes each. One is “standing and no conversation” while the other is “seated and allowed to talk”. A lunch-break of 30 minutes occurs in a dining room attached to each factory.
Twenty minutes of which can be spent talking. In addition, there is a single 40 minutes (sometimes only 30 minutes) exercise period in which talking is permitted. At all other times, talking is strictly prohibited and will result in harsh punishment. The time of the exercise period varies on a specified schedule, and only applies to working days.
Assigned tasks, or jobs, are arbitrarily assigned with much reliance on the relationship that an inmate has with the factory officer in charge. Thus, the more interesting or privileged work is given to the superior’s favourite people. Training, which is minimal at best, is done “on the job” by an appointed foremen (hancho in Japanese) who have, in most cases, had no more than six months in that job but are the officer’s favourites. The various tasks are split between standing and done sitting: the cutting of the fabric and ironing is done standing.
The various parts of the kimono passing from one station to the next until completion:
- Beginning with cutting > ironing for sewing > machine sewing > hand-sewing and checking > finish ironing.
Standing workers are given extra rations in the form of approximately 20 % more carbohydrates. Work conditions are extremely harsh and rigidly enforced. Offers monitor every single action from working, to eating, exercising, going to the toilet, or if one needs advice from a hancho…
** There are so many rules that it would require many pages to list them, but include: no talking or looking at anything other than one’s work, or moving from sitting to standing position, etc, etc, etc…!**
Each person has a strictly demarcated area in which to work, the only roving or moving people are the foremen when called, and approved by an officer, to another worker for assistance!