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Cultivating Commons

Cultivating Commons: Joint Ownership of Arable Land in Early Modern Japan

Philip C. Brown
Copyright Date: 2011
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    Cultivating Commons
    Book Description:

    Cultivating Commonschallenges the common understanding of Japanese economic and social history by uncovering diverse landholding practices in early modern Japan. In this first extended treatment of multiple systems of farmland ownership, Philip Brown argues that it was joint landownership of arable land, not virtually private landownership, that characterized a few large areas of Japan in the early modern period and even survived in some places down to the late twentieth century. The practice adapted to changing political and economic circumstances and was compatible with increasing farm involvement in the market. Brown shows that land rights were the product of villages and, to some degree, daimyo policies and not the outcome of hegemons' and shoguns' cadastral surveys. Joint ownership exhibited none of the "tragedy of the commons" predicted by much social science theory and in fact explicitly structured a number of practices compatible with longer-term investment in and maintenance of arable land.

    Exploring early modern society from the ground up, this work provides new perspectives on how villagers organized themselves and their lands, and how their practices were articulated (or were not articulated) to higher layers of administration. It employs an unusually wide array of sources and methodologies: In addition to manuscripts from local archives, it exploits interviews with modern informants who used joint ownership and a combination of modern geographical tools (hazard maps, soil maps, digital elevation models, geographic information systems technologies) to investigate the degree to which the most common form of joint ownership reflected efforts to ameliorate flood and landslide hazard risk as well as microclimate variation. Further it explores the nature of Japanese agricultural practice, its demand on natural resources, and the role of broader environmental factors-all of which infuse the study with new environmental perspectives and approaches.

    Cultivating Commonswill be welcomed by Japanese historians, those in other regional-national fields, and social scientists concerned with issues of resource management, economic development, and rural society.

    eISBN: 978-0-8248-6029-5
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-vii)
  3. List of Tables
    (pp. viii-viii)
  4. Preface
    (pp. ix-xii)
  5. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xiii-xvi)
  6. 1 Introduction
    (pp. 1-17)

    Many early modern Japanese villages (ca. 1580-1868) failed to adopt anything like private individual landownership, yet they still experienced economic diversification and growth. In some 30 percent of Japan, no direct link existed between a farmer and the land associated with his cultivation rights. Especially in many parts of the Hokuriku, Shikoku, and Kyushu regions, the land one farmed at any given time was determined by village or baronial domain (ban) policy employing one of three mechanisms: allocation of cultivation rights linked to family composition, a fixed order of rotation, or lottery. Although there are three major variants of these...

  7. 2 Origins and Geopolitical Contexts
    (pp. 18-43)

    Chapter 1 outlined several intellectual contexts in which the study of joint village control of arable land is important; however, significant additional questions about joint landholding derive directly from the explanations that Japanese scholars have offered for its origins.¹ This handful of explanations raise several common issues. First, with one exception, these explanations pose questions about the relationship between systems of joint landownership and the natural environment in which they existed. Second, by implication they raise issues associated with the geographic distribution ofwarichi. Third, they raise questions about what permits or encourages this distribution, in particular the historical administrative...

  8. 3 Data and Methodologies
    (pp. 44-57)

    The discussion in Chapter 2 has a variety of implications for the kinds of data available and the methodological approaches necessary to probe the extent and practice of joint ownership in early modern Japan. To understand the practice ofwarichiwell, one must study local practices in widely scattered parts of Japan. Such an approach makes heavy demands—the necessity to understand many local developments in significantly different circumstances. Although I focus most intently on Echigo, I take a multilayered approach to this subject and look at practices in several regions at both domain and village levels and endeavor to...

  9. 4 Varieties and Extent of Joint Landownership
    (pp. 58-100)

    The preceding chapters have demonstrated the structural potential for domains and villages to develop multiple arrangements for regulating farmer rights in land. They also hint that geographic conditions alone may not explain the presence or absence ofwarichi. The presence of joint ownership itself is a significant indicator of the variation in landownership types permitted by and introduced underjapan’s early modern administrative structure. This chapter presents further evidence for that diversity and explores the major patterns of joint ownership practice.

    Just considered on its own, the diversity of practices withinwarichiis fascinating. Why did different regimes develop? What were...

  10. 5 Lay of the Land: Warichi Practice in Iwade Village
    (pp. 101-129)

    Previous chapters have examined the general structure ofwarichisystems and the broader historical contexts within which they operated. They have also summarized the scholarly evaluation ofwarichi’sorigins. It is now time to look closely at how the system functioned in practice at the village level. Did participants actually measure and reevaluate fields routinely? Did the distribution process adhere to principles of fair play in practice? Did the system adjust for changing productivity over time?

    In Chapter 3 a variety of evidentiary issues were noted that complicate analysis ofwarichisystems and their operation, particularly over extended spans of...

  11. 6 Warichi and Natural Hazard
    (pp. 130-144)

    There has been limited mention of either floods or landslides in Iwade village thus far. If there were natural fluctuations associated withwarichiin Iwade, they seem to have been subtle changes more than a result of significant natural calamity. The impact of environmental change, even if subtle, would have affected dry field more than paddy since restructuring of dry-fieldwariwas more common than for paddy. The sole mention of floods in the redistribution notebooks occurs at the end of the reallocation of the 100-bu wariduring the Horeki (1756-1757) redistribution. Here we find the following note: “In the...

  12. 7 Luck of the Draw? Outcomes and Disputes
    (pp. 145-170)

    In Chapter 5, I examined the structuring of fields and discussed the division of rights holders into groups. That discussion involved an assessment of responsiveness to the environment, a subject explored further in Chapter 6. I suggested that villagers in Iwade appeared to be responsive to changes in the quality of the soil, but data from more than one hundred villages did not show a highly regular, systematic pattern of response. There was significant variation between nearby villages in similar environmental circumstances. This suggested substantially different judgments regarding degree of risk and its import for the villages.

    Shareholder judgment regarding...

  13. 8 Adaptability, Survivability, and Persistent Influences
    (pp. 171-188)

    Joint ownership arrangements served multiple functions, and systems could be fine-tuned in sophisticated and sometimes complex ways. Earlier chapters have examinedwarichiin one village in considerable detail and explored whether there was a relationship between the flood and landslide risks posed by the natural environment, on the one hand, and the sensitivity of redistribution to differing degrees of risk, on the other. Even within per share systems of joint ownership, the most common form, community behavior across the single region of Echigo displayed varied responses to natural hazard risks. This chapter takes up three additional subjects: the adaptability of...

  14. 9 Final Reflections
    (pp. 189-216)

    The preceding analyses raise a number of interesting perspectives about japanese history, the functioning of joint ownership in early modern and even twentieth-century japan, and the implications of that history for understanding economic activity and motivations in human society. My analysis has tested critically postulates drawn from the scholarly literature on joint ownership in japan, developed a classification of major variants, and revealed a number of unusual wrinkles in the actual practice of the most common form, per share redistribution. The implications of these analyses call into question common ways of thinking about the relationship between ownership rights and economic...

  15. Appendix A: Sources for Redistribution Interval Data and Coordinate Data, Echigo Villages
    (pp. 217-226)
  16. Appendix B: Hikikuji Usage, Supplementary Tables
    (pp. 227-234)
  17. Notes
    (pp. 235-250)
  18. Bibliography
    (pp. 251-262)
  19. Index
    (pp. 263-268)
  20. Back Matter
    (pp. 269-273)