Seeds deferred : Japanese agrarian development, rōnō and the transformation under industrialism

Witten, Adam Phillip Joseph
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[Honolulu] : [University of Hawaii at Manoa], [August 2011]
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The rōnō came into being around the Tokugawa era because it was the Tokugawa period when agricultural technology finally fused with commercial development to provide a strong base for an agrarian order. As before the shōen system agrarian technology had been too fragile to support continuous cultivation, the changes in production that occurred from the shōen period through the early decades of the Tokugawa allowed technological development, commercial integration and political order to harmonize. The social and economic issues attached to these developments then encouraged farmers to invest more labor and capital in increasing the products of their lands. Regardless of the size of their holdings, the rōnō aimed to facilitate continued technological development. In this context, the Rōnō can be thought of as Japanese farmers who refined and advocated specific sets of practices within their regional mode of agricultural production. These practices, among them composting, transplantation, multi-cropping, crop rotation, and dry-island fields, were elements of an agrarian technological order that had been emerging for quite some time within East Asia, but bore unique characteristics within Japan. These developments were conducted and reinforced by the everyday behaviors and applications of Japanese farmers, as a whole. It was these farmers who solidified a rice-based agrarian order through the gradual expansion and modification of relevant techniques, while also highlighting the regional variations that made universal applications of pre-industrial methods rather difficult. Because it was farmers who performed these actions, rōnō must be a subset of farmers, not the best agriculturalists but the more active and vocal contributors to agricultural development. From this perspective Rōnō can be viewed as participants and inheritors of long-term technological changes within an agrarian plurality, one active group among many others. The remainder of this thesis is an examination of the contents of the Japanese agrarian order, with particular attention to the transformations that occurred socially and economically under the Meiji state. It was the Meiji era when the rōnō became employees of a national government, involved in the creation of homogenized agricultural practices and facilitated the formation and solidification of institutional agriculture. In these roles, Meiji era rōnō may have taken on 'new', bureaucratic and technical roles; but they were still practitioners of Tokugawa era agriculture. But to be clear, these periods were not an ideal past. Rather, I will argue that the agricultural complex of that time, as a set of practices and techniques as well as an approach or mentality concerning humanity's place in the natural world, is worthy of replication, at least in part. To substantiate these claims this thesis proposes that the study of Japanese agrarian history, especially over the long term, accentuates the underlying conflict between central and local authorities, which was not resolved until the creation of a national, bureaucratic state. This tension, as the principal cause of agrarian unrest, intensified in the Meiji period when farmer interests and political and national aims were not immediately compatible. Although rural unrest and disorder were one outcome, the loss of local autonomy, both over politics and agriculture, was another. But while weakened local self-determination did not necessitate that the interconnections between agricultural practices, agricultural products and human health would attenuate, the shift towards industrial agriculture's paradigms did.
M.A. University of Hawaii at Manoa 2011.
Includes bibliographical references.
Meiji era
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Theses for the degree of Master of Arts (University of Hawaii at Manoa). History.
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