Korean kuzuya, ‘German-style control’ and the business of waste in wartime Japan, 1931-1945

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2 Citations (Scopus)


This article shows how wartime conditions transformed the waste business in Japan. Hygiene regulations from 1900 to the 1920s followed by an influx of Korean migrant labour disrupted the traditional waste trade. The conquest of Manchuria opened up new export markets for Japanese waste and increased the demand for munitions, causing scrap metal prices to skyrocket. These new economic conditions created opportunities for Korean-owned waste businesses. In 1938 the Japanese Ministry of Commerce and Industry imposed a control system on kuzuya scrap dealers consciously modelled on Nazi Germany to keep scrap prices as low as possible and to prevent criminal activity through extensive surveillance. These price controls privileged wholesalers and harmed waste-pickers; Koreans remained in the trade because of their cheap labour. Economic mobilization under conditions of total war after 1941 temporarily rehabilitated the marginalized image of kuzuya in government propaganda, but the end of the war shattered that illusion.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)904-922
Number of pages19
JournalBusiness History
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - 2022

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
For their helpful comments and suggestions, I would like to thank Heike Weber, Sabine Frühstück, the two anonymous reviewers, and the participants of the June 2018 ‘Waste, Recycling, War and Occupation’ workshop held at Karlsruhe Institute of Technology. I am particularly grateful to Chizuru Araya who located and translated primary and secondary source material in Japanese.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021 Informa UK Limited, trading as Taylor & Francis Group.

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Business and International Management
  • Business, Management and Accounting (miscellaneous)
  • History


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