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Journal of Interdisciplinary History 33.1 (2002) 165-166

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The Historical Demography of Pre-modern Japan

The Historical Demography of Pre-modern Japan. By Akira Hayami (Tokyo, University of Tokyo Press, 2001) 191 pp. N.P.

The chapters in this volume survey the field of historical demography, outline the main population trends during the Tokugawa era (1603-1868), provide examples of the results possible in the micro-analysis of population registers, and draw connections between historical demography and family history. Well-versed in the demographic history of Western Europe, Hayami has organized an international group of scholars analyzing the population registers of China, Japan, Belgium, Italy, and Sweden.

Temporally, the population history of Tokugawa Japan differs markedly from that of Western Europe, although similarities are also evident in other dimensions. Unlike Western Europe, the Japanese population during the seventeenth century grew by about 1 percent per year—a rapid rate for a sustained period by premodern standards—perhaps tripling to 31 million between 1600 and the comprehensive survey in 1721. At the national level, not much had changed by 1868, but Hayami argues that this stagnation is an artifact of substantial regional variation and sharp short-run fluctuations in mortality. In normal years during the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, the population grew, but three great demographic crises also took place.

Hayami's principal orientation is that of economic historians since Thomas Robert Malthus who have dealt with the mechanisms balancing population with variation in economic circumstances. In his micro-study of household and demographic characteristics in a village in Shinano Province, for example, he calculates the mean marriage age needed, given the level of marital fertility, to maintain the size of the population. In several instances, he emphasizes the positive and preventive check associated with urban migration. Ignored in the global perspective of Malthus, the movement of young people to towns and cities for employment increased their risk of death—the "urban graveyard theory" (52)—and delayed their entry into marriage. The individual-level analysis of out-migration for work by villagers in Mino Province effectively illustrates the great value of this type of population register that keeps track of how many, where, and for how long people moved.

In the tradition of demographers, Hayami is critical of the flaws in his sources and is generally cautious in his interpretations. As a non- specialist on Japan, I was particularly interested in his perspective on the distinctiveness of the Japanese "case." These essays raise interesting questions about the homogeneity and enduring continuity of the Japanese demographic experience. Hayami's evidence points to the substantial incidence of complex (joint) households for the earlier part of the Tokugawa period rather than the stereotypically Japanese stem pattern of co-residence of married parents with a married son. His discussions of the meaning of this finding and the reasons for the transition to the classic stem pattern are, unfortunately, brief. In the final pages, "going out [End Page 165] on a limb" (175), he speculates that the origins of the three major demo-family regions had their origins in different waves of migration to the three main islands of Japan.


Daniel Scott Smith
University of Illinois, Chicago



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