“Every few hundred feet , we passed a farm-house screened by clipped hedgerows and bosomed in trees; and at longer intervals we rolled through some village, the country pike becoming for the time the village street. The land was an archipelago of homesteads in a sea of rice.”
– Percival Lowell, “The Soul of the Far East”, 1888
“Works referring to Japan’s rural sector draw a sharp contrast between the Meiji era, 1868-1912 – a time of growth and development – and the 1920s and 1930s, portrayed as decades of stagnation, crises, and impoverishment.
“The latter period is characterized as one of over-population, growing pressure on land, insufficient urban employment for the countryside’s surplus youth, agricultural stagnation, the elimination of rural by-employment, exploitation of peasants by suppliers of agricultural inputs, the collapse of sericulture, and mounting debt, tax, and rent burdens. Did Japanese farmers pass suddenly from a golden to a bleak age?
“… There is a belief encouraged by such expressions as ‘confiscation’ of the ‘produce of the fields’ that imposts on farmers were as a heavy as the 34 percent of the rice crop levied in the early Meiji decades. They were, in fact, far lighter … Although by 1912 all taxes and levies took no more than 12.5 percent of farm income, there was a further reduction so that by 1933 the figure was 6 percent and just prior to World War II, 5 percent.
“From outright exploitation, the government turned, in the 1920s, to assisting farmers. The post-1921 rice-control policy may have encouraged colonial production and failed to stop the price fall before 1932 but it did lift farmer’s returns in 1934-1935 and ensure that during the period from 1931-1938 rice prices were steadier than those of [crops] entirely subject to market forces.”
– Japan’s Farm Sector, 1920-1940: A Need for Reassessment, by P.K. Hall, Agricultural History, Vol. 58, No. 4, October 1984