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Agricultural land reform in postwar Japan : experiences and issues

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  • Kawagoe, Toshihiko
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    Immediately after World War II, drastic agricultural land reform was implemented in Japan. This reform has been considered one of the most successful agrarian reform projects in the world. It is often said that the reform gave former tenant farmers new incentives, which contributed to the rapid growth of Japanese agriculture, but little empirical evidence has been presented to support that assertion. Most past studies discussed the impact of reform without distinguishing between political and economic issues. How was the agrarian structure changed by reform? What kind of economic and political issues were raised, solved, or remained intact? The author explores the political and economic motives for reform and the conditions that allowed such drastic reform to succeed. He also identifies economic issues that were inoculated by the reform, and chronologically traces reform's progress. His conclusion: Japanese land reform succeeded politically but, as an industrial policy, brought serious economic problems. Japan's reform experience offers precious lessons to developing countries now intent on implementing agrarian reform. Land reform in Japan demolished a class structure based on landholding. Landlords were no longer supreme and rural society was restructured, so the rural population became supportive of the ruling conservative party. But land reform had little effect on agricultural production. Land ownership was transferred from landlords to tillers of the soil, and small tenant farmers became small owner-cultivators, with no apparent change in farm size. The traditional agricultural production structure from prewar Japan remained. Agriculture grew after the war, but not because of land reform--possibly because of greater technical knowledge and the recovery of critical inputs, such as knowledge and the recovery of critical inputs, such as fertilizer, thatwere in short supply during the war. The income and standard of living of rural people may have improved, but it is not clear to what extent land reform contributed to capital formation in agriculture. More empirical work is needed.

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    Paper provided by The World Bank in its series Policy Research Working Paper Series with number 2111.

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    Date of creation: 31 May 1999
    Handle: RePEc:wbk:wbrwps:2111
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