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Reviewed by:
  • Rural Economic Development in Japan: From the Nineteenth Century to the Pacific War
  • Kerry Smith
Rural Economic Development in Japan: From the Nineteenth Century to the Pacific War. By Penelope Francks. RoutledgeCurzon, 2005. 288 pages. Hardcover £65.00.

In the late 1880s, Inoue Kaoru was one of several powerful officials in the Meiji government calling for a fundamental transformation in how the nation farmed. The labor-intensive cultivation of small plots of land that had long characterized Japanese agriculture could not, Inoue and others argued, meet a modern nation's needs for food. It was time to abandon the inefficient and backward practices of the past in favor of big farms and more rational use of labor, much as had already happened in the West, in order to foster the growth of industry and in recognition that the demise of small-scale farming was inevitable.

As it turned out, Inoue was wrong. This tension between what agriculture was "supposed" to look like in a modern industrial economy and the realities of agriculture in Japan is a key element in Penelope Francks's recent work on farming, farmers, and the state's attitudes toward both. Inoue's vision of the future of agriculture was abandoned in favor of one that accommodated small farms and the complicated relationships among rural households, industry, and capitalism associated with them. One of Francks's goals is to explain how and why this happened. A second and closely related concern is the role that farmers themselves played in shaping rural Japan's economic and social landscape. "It is the ways in which Japanese rural households were able to develop and follow their own strategies of survival, security and betterment," Francks writes, "and thus to exert a significant influence over the political economy of Japanese industrialization, that needs to be explained" (p. 3).

This useful and thorough book explains that process, and others, in clear language and considerable detail, contributing to the study of modern Japan in several ways. Francks makes good use of an impressive array of the most recent Japanese- and English-language scholarship on the agricultural economy and the countryside in Japan. She also refers to key works in development studies for their analyses of local initiatives and community strategies in the Third World. Her broader arguments are built on a combination of these materials and her own analysis of the statistical evidence.

Francks divides the book, and her periodization of rural economic development, into three parts. The first focuses on the farm family and agriculture in the nineteenth century, as the Tokugawa regime gave way to the Meiji state. Interestingly, and I think effectively, Francks chooses to carry her analysis of this period past 1868, the usual dividing line, forward to 1890. This makes a lot of sense, as for most farmers and likely for many Japanese in all walks of life, the Meiji Restoration's effects were felt only gradually. Arguably it was not until the 1890s that "industrial interests began to outweigh agricultural and land-owning ones in the workings of the national political economy" (p. 24), or that long-term employment outside of agriculture became possible for a significant number of would-be factory workers. The 1890s to 1920s were what Francks calls years of transition, as both agriculture and industry adjusted to changing economic and social structures. The third and final era, from the 1920s until the end of the Second World War, saw policies that had once offered only tentative [End Page 257] support for small-scale farms and those who cultivated them made more robust, and more explicit in whom they sought to assist. Though not a radical departure from earlier periodizations of rural economic history, this framework for thinking about changes in the countryside and agricultural policy allows for useful comparisons with, for example, developments in labor and social policies.

Francks consistently draws our attention to examples of successful responses by farm households and rural communities to new and often challenging circumstances. In discussing how small-scale farming became the norm and how farmers helped shape that outcome, for instance, she points out that through much of the nineteenth century rural life expectancies and...


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