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Agricultural land reform in postwar Japan : experiences and issues


  • Kawagoe, Toshihiko


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.

Suggested Citation

  • Kawagoe, Toshihiko, 1999. "Agricultural land reform in postwar Japan : experiences and issues," Policy Research Working Paper Series 2111, The World Bank.
  • Handle: RePEc:wbk:wbrwps:2111

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    Cited by:

    1. Tasso Adamopoulos & Diego Restuccia, 2014. "The Size Distribution of Farms and International Productivity Differences," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 104(6), pages 1667-1697, June.
    2. Magalhaes, Marcelo Marques de & Souza Filho, Hildo Meirelles de & Sousa, Miguel Rocha de & Silveira, José Maria F. J. da & Buainain, Antonio Marcio, 2011. "Land Reform in NE Brazil: a stochastic frontier production efficiency evaluation," Brazilian Journal of Rural Economy and Sociology (RESR), Sociedade Brasileira de Economia e Sociologia Rural, vol. 49(1), March.
    3. Yutaka ARIMOTO & Tetsuji OKAZAKI & Masaki NAKABAYASHI, 2010. "Agrarian Land Tenancy In Prewar Japan: Contract Choice And Implications On Productivity," The Developing Economies, Institute of Developing Economies, vol. 48(3), pages 293-318.
    4. Hye Kyung Lim & Jaan-Henrik Kain, 2016. "Compact Cities Are Complex, Intense and Diverse but: Can We Design Such Emergent Urban Properties?," Urban Planning, Cogitatio Press, vol. 1(1), pages 95-113.
    5. Shenggen Fan & Connie Chan-Kang, 2005. "Is small beautiful? Farm size, productivity, and poverty in Asian agriculture," Agricultural Economics, International Association of Agricultural Economists, vol. 32(s1), pages 135-146, January.
    6. Raffaella Castagnini & Klaus Deininger & Maria A. Gonzalez, 2004. "Comparing land reform and land markets in colombia: impacts on equity and efficiency," Policy Research Working Paper Series 3258, The World Bank.
    7. Jingzhong Ye & Lu Pan, 2017. "Concepts and Realities of Family Farming in Asia and the Pacific," Working Papers id:11938, eSocialSciences.
    8. Jingzhong Ye & Lu Pan, 2016. "Concepts and realities of family farming in Asia and the Pacific," Working Papers 139, International Policy Centre for Inclusive Growth.


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