Social Scientist. v 6, no. 63 (Oct 1977) p. 40.


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MOTE

The Role of Peasant Organisations in the Japanese Land Reform

JAPAN HAS had a long history of peasant movements. Most spectacular were the spontaneous revolts of peasants in particular areas where land tenancy conditions became unbearable. Thus., in one of the villages in the valley north of Matsumoto, Nagano Prefecture, a riot broke out in 1725. As a result of a particularly bad agricultural year the tenants neither had any produce to pay the tax in kind, nor any food for their own subsistence. They asked the landlords to provide them with food and pay the taxes (as an advance);, but the latter refused to do so. In one village, out of desperation; about 500 tenants stormed the houses and warehouses of the landlords and destroyed them. The tenants of this village at the far end of the valley started a march towards the local capital Matsumoto; on their way,, many other villages joined them, similarly storming the landlords5 properties. Some landlords tried in vain to organise their tenants to combat the growing stream of rioting peasants, about 30,000 of whom were finally marching towards Matsu-moto. Only the mediatory efforts and persuasion by one highly respected land-owning family made the tenants lose some of their motivation, whik the appearance of a great m^m^samurai (wairiors) from Matsumoto Castle, threatening to use their guns, made them finally return to their homes. Neither tenants nor landlords were killed in the movement.1 This was one example of movements thai sometimes occurred.

Between 1600 and the end of the Tokugawa regime in 1868, about 3,000 peasant riots occurred, mostly in waves in periods of famine.2 As a result of the Meiji Restoration and the introduction after 1870 of a western type of private land-ownership in rural areas, the contrast between a new class of landlords (]inushi) and tenants (kosaku) increased, resulting in more protest movements. Protest was also directed against government policies of the Meiji period, such as conscription, the new land taxes and the imposed administrative reorganisation in the rural areas. The changes introduced under the Meiji regime were on the whole disadvantageous to the peasants, who continued to live under



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