Norms, Networks, and Power

Often led by (retired) cooperative staff and municipal officials, hamlet- based farms in Hikawa ‘act in accordance with the views of Nokyo and the municipal administration’.[1] Beyond the functional aspects of local governance, the promotion of the concept of hamlet-based collective cultivation is thus closely interlinked with enforcing a certain interpretation of the national agricultural policy process as a whole, that is, one that reinforces instead of undermines the control of the administration and the co-op over the local agricultural sector. The normative foundation for this interpretation - the notion of farmland as a collective resource - has been disseminated along local social network ties, and eventually shifted from the hamlet level to the level of the whole town. Personal ties between members of the administration, the local co-op, and hamlets are an important factor for the proliferation of hamlet farming. An influential farmer and former JA official in Hikawa explains:

In every hamlet in Hikawa in which a farm cooperative is formed, there is a cooperative official or a member of the administration already living in the hamlet. In Hikawa, the presence ofsuch leaders is important for the founding of hamlet-based farms. [... ] What it needs in the beginning is somebody who is employed in the cooperative farm management department, someone who lives from farming, then the organization-building is quicker.

As indicated in the latter part of the quote, similar network ties play a role for promoting hamlet farming in other parts of Japan as well.[2] However, the integration of hamlets is particularly strong in Hikawa. As a specific feature of governance in Hikawa, groups of two to four hamlets form so-called Promotion Districts (shinkoku). Other than hamlets themselves, these districts are stipulated by municipal law. Shinkoku form a coupling link between hamlets and administration, used mostly to execute agriculture-related directives smoothly. This system guarantees an institutionalized exchange of information between hamlets, the administration, and the local co-op JA Hikawa. It is a formal expression of the high degree of social integration in Hikawa in general. The boundaries of the town and the co-op have been congruent throughout the whole post-war period, and both have been built upon older administrative and cooperative structures in the same territory.[3]

The local agricultural regime in Hikawa thus displays a stable overlap of social, territorial, and political boundaries,[4] which has facilitated the spread of the concept of collective cultivation in Hikawa.[5]

This has normative implications beyond the hamlet level. In Hikawa, the notion of treating farmland as a collective resource was effectively adapted and shifted from the hamlet-level to the level of the local agricultural regime as a whole by deeply socially embedded ‘carriers’. Today, a prominent feature of local governance in Hikawa is comprehensive public control over farmland. Since 2004, the town has a system of publicly redistributing farmland usage rights from retiring farmers to expanding ninaite farms. The normative foundation for this system is expressed in the motto ‘one town, one field’ (itcho, ichi nojo)[6] - which indicates that all arable farming in Hikawa is a collective resource, controlled not (or at least not exclusively) by the households owning the land, but by the local authorities.[7] This motto not only resonates with ‘traditional’ hamlet functions. In fact, it is an adaptation from the early days of hamlet-based farming in Hikawa: the pioneer hamlet-based collective farm in Hikawa was founded under the very similar slogan ‘one district, one farm’ (ichi chiku, ichi nojo).[8] Among the local officials involved in the project was an influential local leader then employed at JA Hikawa. Even earlier, the same official had established a less formal system of collective cultivation in his own hamlet/shinkoku, where his family has been residing for 10 generations and more. Under the influence of himself and other local figures of

‘respect and creditability’,[9] the concept of collective cultivation subsequently spread alongside the other features of local farmland governance that have come to set Hikawa apart from most other localities in terms of control over farmland and farmers.[10]

Operating upon such a stable normative basis, the local agricultural administration - represented by the local agency that manages farmland matters in town, the so-called Nogyo Kosha - can now enforce the further proliferation of collective cultivation even against considerable resistance. Via the strong notion that land is a collective resource, the interests of farm(er)s are subjected to the agenda and the power of the agricultural administration, which prefers a further proliferation of collective cultivation over individual entrepreneurialism. In this context, it is important to note that Hikawa is an extreme case in terms of how comprehensive the normative ‘raw material’ on the hamlet level has been built into a defensive local agricultural regime. As mentioned above, municipal and cooperative mergers and ongoing de-agriculturalization have diffused the relation between hamlets and local autho- rities/cooperatives throughout Japan. While such changes might not affect the abilities of particular hamlets to exploit state support collectively, they are likely to reduce the power of local co-ops and/or administrations in other localities to enforce similarly successful defence strategies.

  • [1] Tashiro, ‘Izumo chiiki’, 180.
  • [2] This finding is backed indirectly e.g. by Shoji, ‘Kyoto-fu’; Kobayashi, ‘Seido henkaku’.
  • [3] JA Hikawa, Hikawa-cho.
  • [4] Formally, these boundaries have come under attack in 2011, when the town was absorbed byneighbouring Izumo City. Moreover, by 2015 the local co-op had also been merged into theprefectural co-op JA Shimane. Yet, by late (2013), Hikawa still displayed a clearly delineated localagricultural regime.
  • [5] Writing on Chinese villages, Tsai argues accordingly that an ‘overlap between social andpolitical boundaries’ positively influences the relationship between local authorities and theirjurisdictions, because it can bring about ‘informal institutions of accountability’, see Tsai,Accountability Without Democracy.
  • [6] Izumo City, No chi shuseki de tegakeru nogyo shinkosaku.
  • [7] Jentzsch, ‘Village Institutions’.
  • [8] Jindai, ‘Shimane-ken’, 92.
  • [9] Referred to as ‘rippa na hito and ‘sonkei no hito' by this particular member of the localadministration.
  • [10] Apart from public farmland redistribution, these features also include a comprehensive systemof organizing rice production control at the level of the local agricultural regime and the activitiesof a local company called ‘Green Support’, which inter alia acts as a last resort to prevent farmlandfrom falling idle.
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