Agricultural Land Reform in Postwar Japan: Experiences and Issues

56 Pages Posted: 20 Apr 2016

See all articles by Toshihiko Kawagoe

Toshihiko Kawagoe

Seikei University - Faculty of Economics

Date Written: November 1999


Land reform in Japan after World War II has long been considered one of the most successful agriarian reform projects in the world. But does empirical research support that reputation? Or was land reform only a political success?

Immediately after World War II, drastic agricultural land reform was implemented in Japan. This reform has been considered one of the most successful agrarian reform projects in the world. It is often said that the reform gave former tenant farmers new incentives, which contributed to the rapid growth of Japanese agriculture, but little empirical evidence has been presented to support that assertion.

Most past studies discussed the impact of reform without distinguishing between political and economic issues. How was the agrarian structure changed by reform? What kind of economic and political issues were raised, solved, or remained intact?

The author explores the political and economic motives for reform and the conditions that allowed such drastic reform to succeed. He also identifies economic issues that were inoculated by the reform, and chronologically traces reform's progress.

His conclusion: Japanese land reform succeeded politically but, as an industrial policy, brought serious economic problems. Japan's reform experience offers precious lessons to developing countries now intent on implementing agrarian reform.

Land reform in Japan demolished a class structure based on landholding. Landlords were no longer supreme and rural society was restructured, so the rural population became supportive of the ruling conservative party. But land reform had little effect on agricultural production. Land ownership was transferred from landlords to tillers of the soil, and small tenant farmers became small owner-cultivators, with no apparent change in farm size. The traditional agricultural production structure from prewar Japan remained.

Agriculture grew after the war, but not because of land reform - possibly because of greater technical knowledge and the recovery of critical inputs, such as knowledge and the recovery of critical inputs, such as fertilizer, that were in short supply during the war.

The income and standard of living of rural people may have improved, but it is not clear to what extent land reform contributed to capital formation in agriculture. More empirical work is needed.

This paper - a product of Rural Development, Development Research Group - is part of a larger effort in the group to provide background information for the Bank`s rural development projects. The author may be contacted at

Suggested Citation

Kawagoe, Toshihiko, Agricultural Land Reform in Postwar Japan: Experiences and Issues (November 1999). Available at SSRN:

Toshihiko Kawagoe (Contact Author)

Seikei University - Faculty of Economics ( email )

3-3-1 Kitamachi, Kichijoji
Musasino City
Tokyo, 180

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