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Administrative Centralization Threatens Commons-Owning Municipal Sub-unit: Property Wards (Zaisanku) in Toyota City, Japan

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Type: Conference Paper
Author: Saito, H.
Conference: Sustaining Commons: Sustaining Our Future, the Thirteenth Biennial Conference of the International Association for the Study of the Commons
Location: Hyderabad, India
Conf. Date: January 10-14
Date: 2011
URI: http://hdl.handle.net/10535/7260
Sector: Social Organization
Region: East Asia
Subject(s): property rights
autonomy
bureaucracy
cities and towns
Abstract: "In Japan, when the Meiji government encountered great resistance to its drive to convert traditional commons into national forest and to extinguish village commons by amalgamating villages into larger municipal units, the government consented to allow communities to continue to own their commons, particularly forests and reservoirs, as new legal entities called “property wards” or zaisanku. In this paper, we describe the characteristics of this system and discuss its current problems and its potential for resource management, using Toyota City in Aichi prefecture as a case study. In Japan, local communities and village sections (such as buraku or oaza) below the level of municipalities cannot in principle own land. When local authority borders are altered through processes such as amalgamation of municipalities (gappei), existing community units in the municipality can be granted corporate status as property wards, which are recognized as juridical persons that are then allowed to own their commons. The property ward system is regulated under the Local Autonomy Law and falls under the control of the government bureaucracy. Even though the earlier management structure is respected, its operation can be rejected or negated by the bureaucracy. Before 2004, the Inabu ward of Toyota city, Aichi prefecture was an independent town with 13 property wards. Under the Inabu town authorities, the customs of each ward were respected and each ward was managed autonomously. However, after Inabu merged with Toyota City in 2005, the city authorities placed broad restrictions on the use of revenues, threatening the continuity of autonomous management of the commons by the property wards. This example suggests that city bureaucrats have not recognized the productive possibilities of continued management of resources held by property wards as commons."

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