Characteristics of the common land in Saruba, Biratori Town, Hokkaido

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Numerous studies have been made of the specific characteristics of rural communities in Hokkaido, northern Japan, since the 1950s. While relationships between farm households in communities are generally close in Japan, those in communities in Hokkaido are loose, as has been pointed out previously. Only few attempts have so far been made to explain such characteristics through investigations on the micro scale. In Japan, irrigation systems and common lands have played an important part in rural areas as a basis for connections in communities. In this paper, the author attempted to discover the social characteristics of rural communities in Hokkaido with investigations of rural settlement, especially by detailed investigations of land use and ownership of common land. The area selected for study was Saruba in the town of Biratori, Hokkaido, where common land has been used effectively. The results are as follows. 1. In Saruba, large-scale reclamation of agricultural lands was started in 1893 by immigrants from Awaji Island, western Japan. Many immigrants who mainly came from western Japan colonized the area from the 1910s to the 1920s. After the construction of the main irrigation systems in 1915, many paddy fields were rapidly created, and certain connections between farm househols were formed as a rural community by the 1940s. 2. Saruba-kyodoyama is common land that was created by the disposal of state forests in 1910, and was owned jointly by the 65 residents of Nina-mura at that time. The common land has mainly been used for the felling of firewood and lumber, the pasturage of horses, etc. Saruba-kyodoyama obtained a large income by selling larch trees. Because of the instability of agricultural production due to damage by floods and cold weather, that income was used to supplement residents' livelihood by giving a share of the profits from periodical disposal of firewood and lumber at low prices. 3. Saruba-kyodoyama was owned jointly by 65 residents, and each member's ownership was recognized as 1/65. Ownership shares have been bought and sold after 1921. Because the member who left the rural settlement must sell the ownership share to other residents under the rules of Saruba-kyodoyama, there were many movements of ownership shares in the period before many residents had settled there (from the 1910s to the 1930s). On the other hand, there were also many movements of ownership shares in 1955-65, when many shares in profits were disbursed to members of Saruba-kyodoyama. 4. Saruba-kyodoyama has the same fundamental characteristics as common land in Japanese traditional communities. But there are some important differences. For example, in case of traditional communities in Japan, the ownership of common land was recognized as a certification of membership in the community. On the other hand, ownership is recognized economically as money in Saruba-kyodoyama. Frequent movements of ownership shares in Saruba-kyodoyama resulted from the economic features of common land in Hokkaido. 5. Differences in the use of common land in Hokkaido compared to traditional communities in Japan illustrate the differences in social characteristics between rural communities in Hokkaido and those in the rest of Japan. Therefore the author considers that the characteristics of rural communities in Hokkaido with respect to common land are significant.

Original languageEnglish
Number of pages1
JournalGeographical Review of Japan, Series A
Issue number11
Publication statusPublished - 1997 Nov 1
Externally publishedYes


  • Common land
  • Hokkaido
  • Immigration
  • Rural community

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geography, Planning and Development
  • Earth-Surface Processes


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