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UBC Theses and Dissertations

An investigation of the origins of tenant unrest in Japan of the 1920s Whalley, Thomas Randall


This thesis is an investigation of the origins of the tenant farmer movement prevalent in Japan in the 1920 and '30s. This movement was a social movement of considerable importance. Accordingly, much research, both Japanese and Western, has been done on the movement. The concern of this thesis is with the origins of the movement at the rice-shoot level. The question addressed is; Why did the movement develop at this time in Japan's history? Events on the village level are investigated in search for the answer to this query. I have concerned myself with the 1920s alone since the developments in the 1930s merely represent an extension of those of the previous decade. The sociologist James Scott has recently developed a theoretical framework for investigating the origins of tenant unrest as a universal historical phenomenon. This framework was first published in an article in the Journal of Asian Studies entitled "The Erosion of Patron-Client Bonds and Social Change in South East Asia" I have found this framework to provide a useful means of organizing the material relating to the origins of tenant unrest in Japan. The basic premise of Scott's theory is that the vertical ties of loyalty binding the client to his patron are based on the receipt of basic goods and services from the patron. The client's minimum demands are subsistence guarantee and protection. This bond can lose its legitimacy if the patron no longer supplies the goods and services expected by the client. Under these conditions the potential for tenant unrest is created. This potential, however, is not always realized. Whether the patron loses his legitimacy without a client reaction or not depends on several factors. Three of the more important factors that are investigated herein are the state of the client's economy, the means for the client to mobilize and influences beyond the village that either encourage or discourage the expression of his discontent, I argue herein that the 1andlord-tenant relationship in Japan is a patron-client relationship and that changes in Japanese society generally and Japanese rural society specifically led to the loss of legitimacy of that relationship. Four specific changes contributed to that development. The increase in absentee landlordism, the increasing tendency for landlords to invest their money outside of the rural sector, the steady decline in the number of cultivating landlords and the increasing political identification of the landlord with the prefectural bureaucracy all combined to alter the quality of and 1ord-tenant relations and gradually divided the village along class lines. It was this loss of legitimacy of the landlord-tenant relationship that created the potential for tenant unrest. The realization of this potential in the form of organized tenant farmer movement depended primarily on three factors. First, the economic conditions prevailing in Japan in the 1920s were such that the tenant desperately needed the goods and services traditionally provided by the landlord. In the absence of an alternate source of supply the tenant was forced to react against the loss of the services. Second, the existence of a village level tenant farmer union enabled the tenants to successfully mobilize their resources and confront the landlords with their demands in form of a collective bargaining unit. Finally, in order for the movement to have developed it was also necessary that the tenant farmer's traditional attitude toward his landlord change. This change was fostered in large part by the breakdown in the traditional landlord-tenan relationship, but other political changes in Japanese society were not without effect. The labor movement and tenant participation within it was particularly important in fostering changes in tenant farmer consciousness and the development of a class conscious tenant farmer movement. These three conditions are the factors crucial to the realization of the potential for tenant unrest that led to the development of the tenant farmer movement in the 1920s.

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