Labor Report from Meiji Japan (19)

  Japanese Farmers

TAKANO, Fusataro.

HONGO, TOKYO, JAPAN, September 20, 1898.

So much has been said recently of the industrial development of this country that one is apt to take us as an industrial nation. The fact is, we are essentially an agricultural country, having seventy per cent. of its people in pursuit of agriculture. This large percentage naturally gives to the farming population the prestige of an important social factor. Hence, in considering the future aspect of Japan and Japanese, it is necessary to thoroughly understand existing conditions among this class of people. Space will not admit of the complete treatment of this important subject as it deserves, so we must limit our present attempt by depicting life conditions existing among this class of people, and so to furnish your readers with a key to correctly surmise the present status of our civilization.

As yet, the farming industry in this country is largely carried on by peasant proprietors, and the land is quite evenly distributed among them. It is officially estimated that 56 per cent. of the whole farming population are those who own land of less than two acres each, 29 per cent. are those who own between two and three and one-half acres each, and the remaining 15 per cent. are those who own over three and one-half acres each. It is evident from this general division of land that tenant farming is practiced, but on a small scale. Although industrial development and social progress is slowly but irresistibly forcing us to the era of landlordism, only 26 per cent. of the farming population are cultivating on tenancy at present. As a rule, life conditions prevalent among peasant proprietors, as well as tenant farmers, represent the lowest type of Japanese life. For our present purpose, we select one typical case from the province of Owari, one of the fertile districts in this country. The family under our observation consists of five members......husband, wife, parent, and two children, one of whom is old enough to assist his parent in the field. This family cultivates on a tenancy one and one-half acres of rice field and one acre of dry field, both of good fertility and capable of yielding two crops in a year. The rice field yields, on the average, sixty bushels. Seventy per cent. of the yield is given, in kind or in cash, according to the market price at the time, to the land owner as rent. (In other localities this percentage varies, but in no case does it amount higher than 75 per cent. or lower than 60 per cent.) The farmer's share, therefore, amounts to 18 bushels, which, estimated at the ruling price of $1 per bushel, will bring $18 as the farmer's income. Besides this, there is an additional income of $4.50 by disposal of bundles of straw accrued. This brings the total amount to $22.50 as the farmer's earning for the cultivation of rice. The winter crop, for which no rent is paid or rather it is paid in advance by the rice crop is a source of far more important income to the farmer. It is general practice among farmers inhabiting the district in question to lay out rice plots, drained of water, of course, for cultivation of rape-seed plants. The yield of the farmer by this means comes to about 41 bushels and estimated at the rate of 61 cents per bushel, it represents an income of $25. The stalks are not valueless. They fetch about $1.50 for the whole area. Thus, the winter crop of the rice field brings to the pocket of the farmer a sum of $26.50 as his net earning. We next come to the dry field, where, also, two crops, the spring and summer, can be raised. The spring crop is barley. One acre of the plots yield about 40 bushels of barley. Estimated at 60 cents per bushel, the yield corresponds in value to $24, and out of this $14 is paid as rent. For 400 bundles of straw accruing from the field, the farmer will get $1.50, bringing the total income to $11.50 for the spring cultivation of the dry field. The summer crop of the dry field next claims our attention, that is, the second crop after the barley has been harvested. One-half of the field is laid out for sweet potatoes, and 7,500 pounds, corresponding in value to $13.50, are obtained. Of the remaining plots, one-half is laid out for indigo and the other half for maize, beans and other miscellaneous crops. The proceeds from the indigo plots may be reckoned at $8, and other plots yield in value $7.50. Lastly, a sum of $1.75 is added as the proceeds of buckwheat or horseradish cultivated in open spaces between the furrows. Summing up the various items we get the following schedule:

Rice....................  $22.50
Rape-seed.............  26.50
Barley..................  11.50
Sweet potatoes......  13.50
Indigo....................  8.00
Miscellaneous crops..  7.50
Inter-furrow crops....  1.75
Total.....................  91.25

Ninety-one dollars and twenty-five cents as a year's income for a family with five members! Strange though it may seem, the farmer's family is actually living on the sum. Of course, everything in and around the house presents a coarse appearance; the house is of crude construction, and the clothing they wear and furniture in the house are of poor materials. On examining their living expenses, we find that owing to the higher cost of rice, they subsist on rice evenly mixed with barley. Fish, which is one of the common foods of other classes of our countrymen, is a thing of luxury for them, and they partake of it on the occasion of village festivals only. Thus, the chief item of food is mixed rice, which costs for the whole family $3.00 per month. For fuel 90 cents is spent, for clothing 45 cents, for repair of furniture and tools 45 cents, and other expenses, including public burdens, foot up to $1.25 monthly. The whole expenditure thus comes to $6.05 per month, or $72.60 per year. To this, the outlay on account of manure amounting to $15.00 per year must be added, and there remains $3.75 to be expended for incidental purposes. Turning our attention to peasant proprietors, we observe no marked difference in their life conditions in comparison with tenant farmers. True, they are not liable to give up the greatest part of their income to land owners, but in its place they are heavily taxed by national and local governments. The national tax on land amounts to about $5.00 per acre, and local tax comes to about $6.00 per acre. Thus, supposing the tenant farmer we have above depicted as owning the land, we will find his yearly income is added to by $56.00, or his total income will amount to $147.25. Deduct from this the national and local taxes, aggregating $27.50, there remains in the hands of the supposed peasant proprietor a sum of $119.75 for his living expenses, or $28.50 more than that of the tenant farmer. It is quite apparent that this small additional income is insufficient to materially improve the life conditions of peasant proprietors. To come to think of it, that 70 per cent. of our population are actually existing on five or seven cents a day. We can not help but despair of our country, and least of all, what prediction are we to make for the future of the people of this nation!

American Federationist, V, No.9(November, 1898)

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