Land and labor reallocation in pre-modern Japan: A case of a northeastern village in 1720–1870

Discussion Papers


by Yutaka ARIMOTO and Satomi KUROSU

March 2015


In agricultural societies, adjusting land and labor according to changes of labor endowment that result from family life cycle events is premised on making full use of resources for each farming household and for the economy as a whole. This paper examines how and how well households in pre-modern Japan reallocated land and labor, using a population register covering 150 years from 1720–1870 for a village in the Tohoku region. We find that households reacted to equalize their production factors; land-scarce households tended to acquire or rent-in land and out-migrate their kin members, while land-abundant households tended to release or rent-out land, in-migrate kin members, or employ non-kin members. Estimates suggest that more than 80% of the surplus or deficit area of land was resolved if the household rented or “sold” land. We discuss a potential underlying mechanism; namely, that the village’s collective responsibility for tax payment (murauke) motivated both individual households and the village as a whole to reallocate land and labor for the efficient use of resources.

Keywords: land reallocation, land-to-labor ratio; factor equalization; land market; pre-modern Japan
JEL classification:  D13; N55; O13; Q12; R20

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