Cultivating CommonsJoint Ownership of Arable Land in Early Modern Japan

Cultivating CommonsJoint Ownership of Arable Land in Early Modern Japan

Philip C. Brown

Print publication date: 2016

ISBN: 9780824833923

Publisher: University of Hawai'i Press


This book challenges the common understanding of Japanese economic and social history by uncovering diverse landholding practices in early modern Japan. It argues that it was joint landownership of arable land 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. Land rights were the product of villages and, to some degree, daimyo policies. Joint ownership structured a number of practices compatible with longer-term investment in and maintenance of arable land. The book 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 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.