Joint Ownership of Arable Land in Early Modern Japan

Cultivating Commons
Cultivating Commons: Joint Ownership of Arable Land in Early Modern Japan,
by Philip C. Brown, challenges the common understanding of Japanese economic and social history by uncovering diverse landholding practices from the late sixteenth to mid-nineteenth centuries. In this first extended treatment of multiple systems of farmland ownership, 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.

“Property rights can ignite social conflict and trigger economic growth, and they are far more complicated than most social scientists have imagined. In Cultivating Commons, Philip Brown analyzes the joint ownership rights that were created by early modern Japanese villagers and survived well into the modern period. In part, the joint ownerships rights reduced the risks posed by flooding, landslides, and other environmental dangers, but that was not their sole purpose, for they also helped preserve equity and coordinate efforts of land reclamation. The book combines careful historical research with imaginative use of geographical data, and it will be essential reading for historians and social scientists who work on Japan, on rural society, on property rights and the environment, and on the political economy of development.” —Philip Hoffman, Rea A. and Lela G. Axline Professor of Business Economics and Professor of History, California Institute of Technology

April 2011 / ISBN 978-0-8248-3392-3 / $52.00 (CLOTH)