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Property Rights that 'Work' in the Face of Disaster: Per Share Joint Ownership of Arable in Early Modern and Modern Japan

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Early Modern and early Modern Japanese certainly attempted to control floods, landslides and water insufficiency/drought via direct manipulation of land. In addition, about one third of pre-modern Japanese villages were subject to joint land ownership regimes, the most common of which distributed risks and benefits of natural characteristics proportionally among landholders and tenants alike. It represents one very sophisticated anticipatory form of sharing the risks and advantages associated with arable land. It maximised the potential for all to continue as agriculturalists and contributors to community labors (irrigation maintenance, dike maintenance, shrines, and more) as well as to continue as tenants. The landholding system also dictated the response to the loss of land from floods or landslides. Begun by the early seventeenth century, a reduced number of hamlets continued this practice down to the 1970s. The long history of joint ownership across multiple political regimes - Early Modern, pre-World War II modern, and post-war modern Japan begs us to embrace a broader conception of landed property rights than the ideal types of 'fee simple/private' and 'commons', and the relationship between rights in practice and those embodied in law. A review of the most widely used form of joint ownership suggests the potential power for local organisations using local knowledge of a resource to create effective property rights that help address challenges presented by catastrophic natural events.
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Keywords: Joint land ownership; disaster recovery; floods; landslides

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: October 1, 2018

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  • The half-yearly journal Global Environment: A Journal of History and Natural and Social Sciences acts as a forum and echo chamber for ongoing studies on the environment and world history, with special focus on modern and contemporary topics. Our intent is to gather and stimulate scholarship that, despite a diversity of approaches and themes, shares an environmental perspective on world history in its various facets, including economic development, social relations, production government, and international relations.
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