Paddy and Dry Fields as Common Property: The Warichi System in Japan

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"Although common management of water resources, swidden cultivation, and 'common' lands (iriaichi) are well known and studied in the case of Japan, few people recognize the important role that corporate management of long-standing arable land played in many Japanese communities throughout the early modern era and into the twentieth century. This practice, commonly known by a variant of the term warichi (lit. 'dividing the land'), continued to be practiced in rare instances until about a decade ago. While there was much variation in local practice, all of the villages which practiced warichi periodically reassigned lands to participating cultivators. Many of the mechanisms employed in the management of common lands to assure unbiased and random access to benefits were employed in warichi as well. "Unlike standard images of redistributional systems warichi was usually not designed to reallocate landed wealth on some per capita basis. This paper will explore some of the alternative social functions performed by redistribution, e.g., controlling risk, providing incentives to more villagers to participate in other corporate projects, and so forth. These property arrangements seem to have worked most effectively where they were locally implemented rather than when domain (han) administrators attempted to force them on a community."
land tenure and use, agriculture, common pool resources, village organization, IASC