Common Property and Community Formation: Self-governing Villages in Late Medieval Japan, 130-1600.
Theses and Dissertations
The need to promote and regulate common property was key to the development of semi-autonomous, self-governing villages in central Japan in the late medieval period (1300-1600). Within a broad context of the agricultural intensification, population growth, commercial development and reduced social stratification, the role of common property in the village economy is seen as the central variable in explaining differences in village stratification and the form of village government. Villages in which common property played a major economic role responded to the need to promote village interests in common property and regulate access by developing village organizations which included a majority of villagers.
Self-governing villages took over the allocation and collection of taxes, the administration of justice and the management of common land and irrigation. They were closed, corporate units in which major economic assets were held as common property and familial and individual interests were restricted to promote collective ones.
Five villages are examined to explain the growth of the Japanese village community in the late medieval era. Documents from Yugenoshima sho in Iyo province, are analyzed to examine the rise of the small farmer and changes in social stratification in early medieval Japan (1050-1300). Four late medieval villages, Imabori, Suganoura, Okujima, all in Omi province, and Kokawa Higashimura in Kii, illustrate how quarrels over common property and the need to manage it triggered the growth of village government. Different forms of common property were instrumental in each case; Okujima focused on fishing rights and mountain fields, Suganoura on mountain land, dry fields, fishing and shipping rights, Imabori on commercial rights and shrine land and Higashimura on irrigation ponds.
As a result of the experience in managing common property and the income derived from it, village government gradually expanded into arenas unrelated to common property taking over administrative and judicial functions previously exercised by proprietary lords. Then, in the sixteenth century, the reduced role of common property in the village economy resulting from economic and political changes was associated with the decline of the autonomy of self-governing villages.