December 15, 1841|
Sano, Tochigi, Japan
|Died||4 September 1913
|Occupation||Politician, Environmental activist|
Shōzō Tanaka (田中 正造 Tanaka Shōzō, 15 December 1841 – 4 September 1913) was a Japanese politician and social activist, and is considered to be Japan's "first conservationist." He is most well known for his defence of the right of workers victims of the Ashio Copper Mine Incident.
Life and influence
He was born in the village of Konaka in present-day Sano, Tochigi Prefecture, and was the son of the village headman. In 1857, he became headman after his father and served for twelve years.:113 In 1879, he founded the Tochigi Shimbun, a periodical in which he discussed human rights and contemporary issues.
Tanaka became a member of the Tochigi Prefectural Assembly in 1880, and its Chairman in 1886. In the general election of 1890, the first ever held in Japan, he was elected to the House of Representatives as a member of the Rikken Kaishintō, a liberal political party.
Tanaka is best known for his advocacy in connection with the pollution caused by waste from the Ashio Copper Mine. Starting from the mid-1880s, rivers near the mine became highly polluted and in 1890 a large flood carried poisonous wastes from the mine into surrounding areas. Tanaka took the cause to the National Diet, but his efforts to publicise the pollution met with little success.:115 In 1900, villagers in the valley of the Watarase River, downstream from the mine, planned a mass protest in Tokyo, but were rebuffed by government troops and forced to disperse. In 1901, Tanaka resigned from the Diet to deliver an appeal directly to Emperor Meiji. In 1911, the Diet passed the Factory Law, Japan's first law to address industrial pollution.
Tanaka was a supporter of local autonomy and the primacy of agriculture.:112 He spent the rest of his life developing his own environmental philosophy and encouraging villagers to protest against various construction projects. After leaving the Diet he lived in Yanaka village, now a district of the city of Sano, until his death by stomach cancer in 1913. At the time of his pass away, Tanaka was literally penniless as to spend his properties to the past actions; all of his possessions were an unfinished manuscript, a book of the New Testament, handkerchief paper, river nori, 3 pebbles, 3 diaries, a bind copy of the Meiji Constitution and the Gospel of Matthew in a cloth bag.
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