Village Commons in Japan from the Moral Economy Perspective: A Note on the Right to Subsistence of the Disadvantaged Villagers

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Date

2013

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Abstract

"This paper tries to examine traditional village commons in Japan (iriai-chi) from the perspective of moral economy. Moral economy and commons are closely-related concepts, in that both ideas attach the greatest importanceto communaland self-governing resource management system in each locality. According to James Scott, moral economy of Southeast Asian peasants was formerly based on 'the right to subsistence' of village members (especially those in economic distress), who were entitled to use village commons to make a living. In a similar vein, Hiroyuki Torigoe, a pioneering environmental sociologist in Japan, emphasizes the need to analyze Japanese village commons from the viewpoint of 'the right to life of the underprivileged.' Following the arguments of Scott and Torigoe, this paper argues that, historically, village commons in Japan including forests, rivers, and other types of common lands had provided an opportunity for the destitute families to survive in a variety of ways. The landless families or victims of a disaster were given priorityrights over utilizing woods and other forest products, arable land, or fishing grounds that were held in common. At times of emergency such as a widespread famineor severe food shortage, village(or local government)-owned woodlands were used as the place to secure foods either by growing crops or gathering wild edible plants.Such a function of village commons as a safeguard against misfortunes, however, came to an end as modern Japanese government carried out several measures to appropriate these communal properties."

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economy, village organization, IASC

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