Thesis Number: #1 (Page 4 of 7)

Japan: a study in Mutual Help

The intimate relationship between mutual help and the social status of land emerges clearly from a study of the people who occupied Japan. Professor of sociology Morio Onda has captured the grand sweep of that anthropological history in his account of reciprocity:

  • yui: reciprocity through exchanging labour
  • moyai: redistribution based on a common store of goods and resources; and
  • tetsudai: support in social rites of passage that was non-reciprocal.

Onda stresses the association with the natural environment: “The commons played important roles as economic production, social integration, and spiritual symbol in regional society” (2013: 539). He stresses that the commons supported expenditures for public services. “Money from selling trees and food from the commons was used to maintain it and the rest was distributed among local people. Fish caught in the sea as part of the commons were equally distributed among not only the fishermen, but also people who did not work directly in the fishery; namely, children, the elderly, and housewives, because they supported the work of the fishermen as village members….We also can see the same mutual help network in a hunting environment” (2013: 540).

The customs were designed to prevent an unbridled exploitation of nature’s resources. Access rights to the commons varied, but the central issue was that “The commons was never supported by individuals but always by communal ownership,” securing the power of people to protect “the core site in communal life and the core of the network of mutual help” (2013: 540).

Figure 3

Japan: the Transformation of Mutuality

Japan: the Transformation of Mutuality

Onda summarises the trends in Figure 3. Through time, the communal interest was crowded out as communities were differentiated by interests defined as public and private. Traces of the mutual help may still be discerned in Japan. But, as we know from the grotesque level of land speculation, by the 1980s people had succumbed to the Western disease (from which Japan has yet to recover). We can date the erosion of the spirit of mutuality to the late 19th century. That was when the Land Tax, which had been deployed during the early decades of industrialisation, was degraded in favour of the culture of rent privatisation (Harrison 1983: Chs. 11-12).

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