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Community Actions Against Anticommons in Contemporary Japan: Case Studies of Former Commons Forests

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Type: Conference Paper
Author: Takahashi, Takuya; Matsushita, Koji; Nishimura, Toshiaki
Conference: In Defense of the Commons: Challenges, Innovation and Action, the Seventeenth Biennial Conference of the International Association for the Study of the Commons
Location: Lima, Peru
Conf. Date: July 1-5
Date: 2019
URI: http://hdl.handle.net/10535/10670
Sector: Forestry
Social Organization
Region: East Asia
Subject(s):
Abstract: "Over the past few decades, many Japanese forest owners and communities have suffered from the outcomes of anticommons policy. Since the Edo Era (17th through 19th centuries), many Japanese commons forests have been subdivided and placed under private ownership. Due to recent unfavorable conditions for timber production in Japan, individual owners of the subdivided small forests (carved out from former commons forests) have lost interest in forestry, resulting in unclear borders. Many owners have relocated outside the villages and/or have passed the land down through generations, resulting in unknown ownership. Such ambiguity regarding forest ownership hinders further forest management activities. Fortunately, there are several ways to ameliorate the anticommons phenomenon in Japan, as illustrated by these examples. 1) Despite the expense, a residents’ association successfully re-appropriated co-ownership land by “technically” suing the current respective co-owners. 2) Some residents’ associations collectively manage subdivided forests as one unit to reduce the damage caused by animals such as wild boars or deer. However, the units are still legally separate and owned by individuals. 3) A residents’ association stipulated that a vacating resident must sell her forest to the remaining residents. This type of rule (iriai), though alien to the modern notion of permanent ownership, was once customary in Japanese villages. These three cases show how motivations, other than profits, could help address the anticommons phenomenon. These motivations include the intent to keep the community’s holding intact in the event of consolidation at the municipality level, to protect the land against pest animals, and to keep the community’s drinking water pure. These community actions against anticommons were made possible by support such as funding or external expertise. Funding from outside sources, such as rent revenues from a resort company renting the commons land or subsidies from the national and local governments, were indispensable for carrying out some of these communities’ actions. In some of these cases, external administrative and legal expertise, such as employees of local governments, a forestry cooperative, or lawyers, was an important factor in making these actions possible. In addition, the existing challenges of these communities should be noted. The first community still faces depopulation and is examining how to deal with this problem. The applicability of the second case (community-wide forest management to reduce damage by wild animals) is limited to forests with relatively low economic values. It is difficult to manage separate, private forests with relatively high economic values as one unit since the owners have high stakes in their properties. Considering these challenges, researchers and policy makers should strive to find more innovative solutions for addressing them."

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