This essay explores cultural factors in urban riots that occurred frequently in early twentieth-century Tokyo, extending from the 1905 Hibiya riot to the 1918 rice riots, by focusing on the everyday practice of young male laborers, including artisans, factory workers, and day laborers, who were the main participants in these riots. The essay first surveys the characteristics of urban riots in Tokyo in the period from 1905 to 1918 and then examines the everyday practice of male laborers, focusing particularly on the role of violence and impulsiveness. Many works of reportage on the urban lower classes published in the Meiji era (1868-1912) and Taisho era (1912-1926) depicted a lifestyle among male laborers that revolved around drinking, gambling, fighting, and patronizing prostitutes. These behaviors, as well as the emphasis on a Robin Hood–style bravado, were socially retrogressive, but constituted a distinctive culture of masculinity. By behaving “manly,” male laborers could earn esteem in their communities, although they lacked fame, fortune, or education, and could live proudly despite little chance of advancing their social status. This culture among male laborers was deeply related to the frequent occurrence of urban riots, and its waning ultimately led to the decline of riots in Tokyo in the 1920s.
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