Prologue

Level land is used for agriculture or urban settlement. The mountains hold the forests, mineral deposits, and recreation. Japan had been remarkably conservationist of its forests, cutting as few trees as possible until World War II, when military requirements forced drastic cutting/harvesting. Mountainous areas also contain the major sources of surface water, and since the Meiji Restoration the Japanese have invested much capital in water development, especially in projects that channel runoff downstream to be used for irrigation in the level lands.

The Occupation's Natural Resources Section commissioned our Public Opinion and Sociological Research Division to conduct a series of studies of forestry management techniques in various parts of Japan. This involved examination of several different kinds of forest ownership and management: private, institutional, government, and religious. Many of the pictures of mountain shrines and temples elsewhere in this collection were taken during this forestry research. However, nearly all of the pictures in this particular portfolio were taken in Tochigi Prefecture--a mountainous and forested area north and west of Tokyo. We liked to compare the area and its level of socioeconomic development with the mountain regions of West Virginia or Kentucky. But the cultural background was of course very different: Japanese tradition views the forested mountains as the home of mountain gods and demons, among other things. It is a region of famous shrines dedicated to the spirits and divinities of the trees and hills.

Journal Extract: November, 1949

Route: Left Tokyo on Allied Occupation train. Overnight to Moriooka, Iwate Prefecture. Took train to Numakumai, where changed to bus which took us on a rough four hour trip up into mountains-- once covered with trees, mostly pine and hardwood, but now pretty well stripped. The various mura as you pass thru them look like any Japanese village with one important exception--there are fences all along the roads and between farms. This is really quite striking after getting accustomed to lowland Japan, which is often one vast rice paddy. [As a matter of fact the largest paddy developments I have ever seen in Japan were around and north of Sendai--whole vast flatlands between mountains and sea. This time of year the rice was harvested and stacked in small cylindrical piles around posts. In the slanting sun of morning or afternoon it is quite a sight--like giant farmers in the straw raincoats, thousands of them, in rows in the flatland.]

Now to Egari mura. The fences are for cattle, because in this north country the raising of milk cattle--all Holstein--is an important industry. The area is really too cold for rice, though a little is raised. Other grains, corn included, and milk cows, plus "forestry" (now nearly all firewood and sumi [charcoal]) make up the economy. The fences are crude, being hand split rails, and very rickety. The village of Egari is a series of thatched roof farmhouses strung out along the road. No shopping district. The whole place is dominated by the landowner's estate. There we stayed. The house was enormous and typical of the of tonosama (local big-wig) houses. Really just a giant farmhouse. One long wing consisted of a huge barn, two stories high. Cows, horses below, hay above. Some rooms above the barn were used as sleeping rooms by family and as an office. The barn was open, leading into the kitchens. Most rooms went straight up to the roof, about thirty feet high. Roof and beams deep black from smoke--the family was embarrassed about this. Center of each room was an enormous fire pit for cooking, with pole apparatus for swinging cooking pots, etc., over fires. Bath room off family kitchen, which also had washing sink area. Kamado or cooking range area in small room off family kitchen.

Rest of house a huge rectangle of kitchens. Two lines of rooms, with engawa (outer platform) all around. Some of the family inhabited these rooms, including a feeble minded brother of the owner. Most of these rooms, however, were about the size of handball courts and were reserved for guests like us. Then also there were two huge kura or storehouses with the family property, treasures, and grain storage bins. All in all a most unfunctional, overlarge, cold place to live. These high ceilinged rooms are just what they shouldn't have with no central heating. The only way you can stay warm is to hover over a hibachi. While we were there it was cold as hell, and I wore long underwear and sweaters, heavy wool suit, etc. Actually one gets used to the cold and somehow it doesn't matter. Helped along of course by a hot bath (in a room temperature of 50 degrees) and hot sake at night.

While there it rained a cold rain, and the mud was terrible. Takeuchi, Sugi, and Harada interviewed full steam despite the discomfort, but I said the hell with that and Masako Inugai and I managed to take two interviews and let it go.

What we found was the most primitive social situation I have seen in Japan, and what Takeuchi confirmed as possibly one of the most in all Japan. Starting with the women, it can be said that the status of women in this mura and the whole area is doubtless as low as it can get. The women are absolutely beasts. They work probably harder than the men. They have full charge of the cattle, help in the fields, and have complete care of the children. They are literally filthy--as a matter of fact everybody was dirty except the landowner and his family. When our gang went to interview a woman in a farmhouse, she often had to be dragged out of a dark corner, and then it was virtually impossible to get anything out of her. Harada was the only one who could get anything worthwhile, and she was astonished at the difficulty and also the terrible ignorance. Most of the women were hardly aware of the ownership status of the farm--they didn't know if their husband owned the land or not. No reading at all. I doubt of any American Indian tribe treated its women this way--although what that comparison means I don't know.

The economic situation was interesting. The landowner is still referred to as such because he still is the same. He owned more forestland than farmland, and none of this was taken away by the Land Reform. He, at least the young man who now owns the place, having succeeded (father lives in Morioka, retired), was glad to get rid of his nago [indentured tenants--a feudal survival], because he has less responsibility--doesn't have to fix their roofs, etc. They still voluntarily donate some labor to him, even though they don't have to. Apparently there is considerable affection between landowner and tenants. Landowner still rents cattle to farmers. So actually dominance of the landowner family continues. Land Reform has actually led to greater socio-economic inequality in the mura since the ignorant tenants cannot make a decent go of it on their farms. All in all the land reform has not changed anything--the only change being for the worse from an over all standpoint.

Discussions with the landowner and his wife were interesting [see the family picture]. He himself is a graduate veterinarian, but no longer practices. Takes care of his own and rented cattle though. Young, vigorous, man slightly withdrawn and not as hospitable in the outgoing sense. Actually, much enryo [embarrassment] up here--hesitant to ask us if we wanted a bath, etc. Very reserved and inclined to leave us alone. Big party last night, though, with the mayor present, etc. Very friendly and good discussion about village and its problems. Very frank. To get back to landowner and his wife--status of women in this home totally different from rest of village (really buraku--read buraku for mura in all above). Women participated with men at same level in interviews, etc. All marriages in landowner family with women from outside, other mura, on same general status. Wife of landowner charming woman, about 33. Said she has had to learn how to speak to the farm women, and can talk to them freely now. She reads newspapers, books. Also in house where mother of owner, visiting--she lives most of the time with his father, her husband, in Morioka. Also as permanent resident was grandmother of owner, a lusty little old dame, who was eager to talk. Takeuchi had three hour interview with her last night after the party.

During day they insisted I see house, with some reticence--and dragged out the family samurai armor, Sengoku Jidai period stuff, beautiful and in perfect shape. Made me put on whole suit of general's armor, weighed about 45 pounds [see photo no.244 in the portfolio]. Atmosphere of house was traditional in every way--one had the feeling that this was a piece of the old prewar Japan scarcely changed. Landowner has same stake in community as he had before the war, gets same deference, etc. Same sense of communal responsibility, except he now doesn't have the legal responsibility to his tenants. But he does in a sense since he still rents out forestland and cattle and must keep these in good shape. House while enormous showed same lack of repair even though the money is there. Courtyard full of mud and cattle dung and sawdust from woodpile--basically a big overgrown farmhouse with more elaborate gate, interior décor, etc.

Why is the status of women so low? No definite answer now, but seems that heavier economic burden is main factor. Cattle, forestry, agriculture take hard work, and this is enough to tip balance in direction of traditional feudal dominance of men. Women work so hard they have no time for anything else, and men have to work hard too. But beyond this there is undoubted persistence of ancient attitudes about women's place in things. Simply a surviving case of primitive Japan. Much work for women does not explain, for example, the fact that they are ignorant, dirty, shy, embarrassed, etc. Divorce status interesting--this area has one of highest divorce rates in Japan, other traditional religions also have same. The reason is interesting--the low status of women means that they must produce--children and work--or else. If they don't or if the husband's mother doesn't like them, out they go. Hence divorces are frequent. Divorce does not dishonor a woman--her status could not be much lower anyway. Her own family is glad to get her back because there is so much work and she helps. Position of mother in family is interesting--if any woman has status it is the mother of the first son after he inherits. While she does all the cooking, she does have some control over the family and household, and she takes out her accumulated aggressions on her son's wife. About all a woman has to look forward to in life is this status of the mother in law late in life. She still has work to do, but she has some independence and can at lease boss someone else.

From Egari we took a local "taxi," which consisted of a 1934 Ford with charcoal burner on back. How this particular vehicle still functioned is beyond me. It was loose all over, boards for seats, wood instead of glass, etc. The worst I've seen, and Japan is full of wrecks which run. The trip was better than the bus, because fewer people. The bus on the way up had been so full of people they were hanging on the sides and sitting on the hood. Anyway we got taken to Numakumai, all of us (Masako and I had come to Egari alone, meeting the rest there). From Nunakumai we took a train again, and back we went to Sendai. The prefectural government had a room for us there in a hotel near the station. Japanese hotel, slightly shady in feel, though nothing definite about it. Semi-western rooms, beds built on the floor with futon on top, instead of portable futon on the floor. There we met the prefectural liaison officials, who were slightly drunk. They let us alone and we were able to go to bed. Had to get up early the next AM to take a train.

Got up early next AM and with Sugi, Harada, and Masako we went out to see what was left of the Sendai castle, precisely nothing. Masako's shoe strap broke and we had to come back before climbing the hill anyway. So we took a train and we went north along the coast, all the way to Onagawa, where we took a boat. The boat took us around the peninsula and through a rather austere but lovely series of islands and inlets, all with lovely autumn foliage. The boat was small, and put in at every single mura and buraku. Finally worked our way up a lovely inlet, both shores of which were lined with buraku of Ogatsu mura. Water clear green, often filled with purple jellyfish. We were perched up on top of the boat, because the cabin was full of people. Cold, but much better for the view. Finally landed at Ogatsu, main buraku, large reception committee. Extremely isolated place--almost impossible to get to by car--really depends for all communication on the boat, which makes daily trips.

These buraku are interesting for varied occupations. Bonito boats are probably the main industry, but in addition one finds agriculture, forestry and a surprise--slate. All the rocks hereabouts are slate, of several strata and quality. Several slate factories--shingles and school slates, latter for export. One or two craftsmen who carve beautiful suzuri, sumi ink trays, boxes, etc. The town saw in me, its first Occupation person--the results being that everyone was on edge and scared to death. It took a big drunk by me the second night to dispel their fears. We stayed at a little hotel, rather crummy but clean anyway. I made a terrific sensation. Literally dozens of children, including teenagers, accompanied me in my walks around town. It got annoying after a while, but there wasn't anything anybody could do. The assistant mayor (joyaku) tried to shoo them off but fishermen's kids are bold and tough. Funny thing was that as we walked around the shore from buraku to buraku the pack of kids would stop at the border of their own buraku, and we would be free of the followers until the next gang took over. Terrific localism. During the next day the rest interviewed around, but Masako and I stayed in the town and interviewed several families. Also visited the slate factory in the next buraku and had a talk with the owner, an old oyabun type whose family owned it for 70 years. Not really oyabun system, though. But traditional occupations--individual families were either fishing or slate, and the two don't mix. Reason given is that it takes a lifetime to learn to be a good fisherman, and you can't rotate jobs. Women work in the slate koba anyway because it is not skilled work.

Most interesting thing about this town is the status of women--contrasted to the Egari case. Women are robust and outgoing, not afraid to argue with husband, and sit in on all interviews. More than that, the women actually have full charge of the purse of the family, and their husbands freely complain about the fact that their wives don't give them enough money! In one interview with an old salt, his wife took a box of tobacco and showed me he had enough tobacco after he complained he didn't get enough money from her to buy it! Amazing. Why should the status of women be so high here, so low in other places, about 100 miles or less away? Reason given is that bonito fishing keeps men away for months at a time, and women got into the habit of running the house. Again this may be true, but doesn't fully explain the greater acceptance of women. Local cultures in Japan distinct and different--I still have difficulty seeing the great homogeneity--yet it is there somehow. The question is, how different is different? What differences count and which don't? How important is the difference in women's status or at least role in these two communities?

The last night there was a brawl at another small hotel--the second in town. Mayor and all city officials. Stiff at first, formal, tense. Then the sake started and oh boy. Wonderful seafood dinner--all local stuff, including oysters. Poor Sugi--can't drink and gets sick. Sake cups started piling up around him and I helped him finish and get rid of them. This caused great sensation and the atmosphere collapsed into hilarity. Takeuchi said on his return that this broke the ice and from that time on they had no trouble interviewing. Anyway, I got absolutely plastered--didn't think it could be done on sake. Evening a total blank. Can recall dimly staggering out of the place while the party was still going on, but from there on it is a blank. Apparently I wandered up and down the sea wall giving lectures and admiring the luminous jellyfish in the harbor. Finally wound up at the hotel where I was put to bed by Sugi and Masako. I can remember shuddering with the cold.

Up early next morning, with absolutely no ill effects--beauty of sake. Off on a boat with many bows to the assembled village. Takeuchi and rest accompanied us to one of the other buraku, and then off alone, with a faithful prefectural liaison man in town. Anyway we wound up at Onagawa again, from there by train to Matsushima, where we had lunch and visited the Zuiganji, famous Kamakura period temple with magnificent painted sliding doors, Kano school, like all Japanese national treasures, falling apart. Thence in a tiny four-passenger motorboat through lovely Matsushima Bay, but sunset. Lovely thing--islands, large and small, from single rocks with single pines to large islands with shrines. Queer sandy rock has been etched out into weird ship-like shapes. Landed at Shiogama, where we hiked up to the top of the hill and saw the famous shrine--Nikko-like stuff, too elaborate. And then a train back to Sendai, and a dinner at the hotel and a bath with the prefectural officials--rather strained atmosphere because neither Masako or I wanted dinners or attention. Then to the Allied Limited and a berth. Tokyo in the AM--Armistice Day, so holiday.

mountain valley

237. The Region of Forests
A typical mountain valley in Tochigi Prefecture, showing the patches of land where whole sections of the forest have been cut. Most of the visible forests were not native growth, but plantations of conifers grown as commercial crops--neat rows of such trees can be seen on the slopes to the left.

man-made structures in a mountain valley

238. The Forest Region is Economic Geography
The economic geography of the mountain valleys of Tochigi and similar prefectures as it was in 1949 can be seen in this single photo. In the background: the cutover patches of commercial trees; in the middle distance, a farmhouse with patches of rice paddy in the front--the owner was also a forest owner who had title to most of the trees in the background. In the foreground is a flume for conducting runoff water downstream for irrigation purposes. And just visible below the flume is a channelized river with masonry embankments.

a mountain stream

239. Forested Valley
A stream-level view of the same mountain river in the previous picture. Note the cutbank in the background: this was an unfinished section of the channelized and masonry banked sides of the river, as we shall see in the next photos.

men standing near a river

240. Channelizing Rivers
People working on the embankment and channel for the river in the previous pictures. Most of such work in the prewar and Occupation periods was done by hand. In later years heavy machinery was used. Note that the stream itself is paved with large boulders, in order to further diminish the effect of erosion in these fast-running mountain streams.

a group of men working on the river shore

241. Work Crews on the River
The people carrying pack-baskets of stones area all women. This, of course, was a hangover from the wartime period, when women took over many heavy labor tasks formerly done by men. Japan has continued, into the 2000s, to perform ambitious land transformation projects--to an extent which alarms Japanese and other who worry about over-building and paving of the landscape.

a small home built in a valley

242. Valley Settlement
The mountain rivers were also sites of small settlements of lumbermen and other workers in forestry. In the mist and light rain these settlements can resemble Japanese paintings. Actually the two buildings on the left of the house were storehouses for tools and family valuables made of cement block, rather than the more picturesque thick plaster visible in pictures later in the portfolio.

a large family (15 people) posed for a picture

243. A Forest Landowner's Family: Egari Mura
The landowner's family in Egari Mura, in northeast Honshu. This family, described in the Journal Extract, owned considerable forest land. Forest land was excluded from distribution in the Japan Land Reform. Much of their former farmland had been given to their former tenants and forestry employees, who continued to maintain relationships with the family, although unofficially, since the nago (indentured tenants) status had been eliminated in occupation land reforms. The head of the family is the man on the far right, wearing part of his Army uniform. He was a veterinarian graduate in the Army, but had "retired" when the army was abolished after the war to operate his land and forestry property, since his father had retired and moved away.

the author wearing full armor

244. The Author in the Suit of Tokugawa Armor Owned by the Egari Family

see text of Journal Extract

9 men and 2 women standing in front of village hall

245. A Village Hall and Staff
In Tochigi Prefecture, each of the mountain valleys funneling into the local market and business town, contained its own mura, or incorporated community. Kaso Mura was one of the best organized, and we made a careful study of how forestry ownership and management was related to the administration and economy of the community. This picture shows the staff of the community government, with the Mayor in the middle, first row. Half of the men in the picture were actually owners of forest land, and they had a considerable stake in the way lands were taxed and supervised. Conflicts of interest were taken for granted.

2 old men standing in front of a sign that reads "Kaso-Mura Agricultural Land Commission"

246. The Big Men of the Village
Two of the men in the group picture. The man on the right was the mura mayor--sonchosan--the man on the left was the President of the Forest Owners Association for the community, and incidentally, the largest single forest owner in the community. The "Agricultural Land Commission" was an Occupation or SCAP term, designating the organizations put together in order to locally create and administer the famous postwar Japanese Land Reform, which reduced most farm holdings to an essential fraction for subsistence and sales of products. However, forest holdings were not subject to the reform since it was deemed too difficult to manage forests in a conservationist regimen if the area were reduced to the size of ordinary crop farms. Moreover, for many if not most of the agricultural operators in these valleys who followed a "mixed" strategy of both timbering and cropping, it was the forest tract that could be used in periods of drought or low crop prices to sustain family income.

a politician standing near a truck with campaign slogans

247. Democratic Politics in the Mountain Community
This man was running for the national Diet in Kanuma City, in Tochigi Prefecture, on a platform to benefit the regional forestry and agricultural economy.

several lumbermen seated on a large log

248. Lumbermen
Forest workers on a lunch break. Men like these lived in the little settlements in the valley, not far from the stands of trees that were sold and cut by their lumberman employer--whose name is on their cotton happi coats or work jackets.

a road made of logs

249. A Skid Trail
A skid trail--this is a pathway down the forested slopes on which the cut logs could be skidded down the valley floor and the road for trucking out.

a woman weaving

250. Secondary Products
Weaving various things with wood and bamboo strips. The woman is working on rough mats and baskets used to transport various secondary forest products, in this case, charcoal. The mountain forestry industry made use of bark, scrap wood, bamboo, rushes and other materials grown in the woods, in the cutover lands, and on special plantations like the charcoal coppices heaths, where tree stumps were repeatedly cropped of sprouting branches to make charcoal.

children standing around a lumber mill

251. Mountain Children
Children of the forestry valleys where their fathers worked in the lumber mill, shown here in Kanuma City, Tochigi Prefecture, in early 1949. Note the heavy padded clothing, standard for rural children during the war and early postwar years. The cheeks of some of the children also display the rosy chapping resulting from constant exposure to cold outdoors and also in the barely heated houses.

children with umbrellas looking directly at the camera

253. View From the Ryokan Balcony
These Kaso Mura village children, on their way to school early in the morning on a cold rainy day stopped in front of the ryokan where the research team was staying, to see what they could see. Across the lane the garden crops used by the cooks in the inn, are just starting to grow. Note the uniforms, standard for Japanese school children at the time.

an estate in the country

254. A Mountain Estate
This was the estate of the largest timberman in the valley--and owner of many acres of forest and also of several lumber and processing mills in the community. This man was wealthy by rural standards of the time, and the large, massive kura or storehouse on the left was full of family treasures. The picture was taken from an opening in the great gatehouse crossing the causeway, which can be seen in the next picture. The depressed fields on either side were flooded part of the year and paddy rice was grown in them.

cf. photo no.83 for more information

a gatehouse in the same region

255. The Great Nagayamon of the Estate
This is the Nagaya Mon, or gatehouse of the estate in the previous picture. That picture was taken from in front of this gatehouse building. These gatehouses were traditional and are rare now, but survive in the mountain villages. They were used sometimes as the residence of employees or as can be seen here, for storage of agricultural materials.

another storagehouse

257. A Traditional Kura
The great kura or storehouse noted in the previous picture of the forest owner estate. These buildings were made of very thick plaster or in some cases, cement, covering a wooden framework. Thick shutter-windows were kept open for ventilation, or closed in case of fire--or what was the case in the feudal era--hostile raids and attacks.

gateway to a set of stairs that leads up to a shrine in the mountains

258. Gateway to a Famous Mountain Shrine
The entrance to the Harumine Jinja. This shrine had been established in the 19th century, and was dedicated to various divinities. The local farmers and forest owners considered it a source of good luck and protection against fire. The shrine was actually owned by a private family--not by a sectarian group--who made their living from the donations brought to the shrine by the local patrons. The trees and columns are, of course, mountain cedar.

cf. photo no.104 in Portfolio 6 for more information

thick base of a tree

259. The Base of the Great Shrine Tree
This is an enlarged view of the base of the large tree visible to the right, inside the entrance to Harumime Jinja. The local people considered this tree a source of valuable luck and tradition.

branches of an old and tall tree

260. Branches of the Great Shrine Tree
Looking up into the branches of the great shrine tree. One of the characteristic values in local culture concerns the symmetrical, yet rugged beauty of old trees and rocks. The mountains were--and still are--considered a special source of magic and tradition of these natural phenomena.

mountain shrine

261. The Mountain Shrine: Harumime Jinja
Another view Harumime Jinja, the shrine that offered protection from fires--a continual hazard in the mountains. The then-owner of the shrine, with whom I spent some time, was an avid collector of fine European briar pipes, and he also was a special kind of Japanese gourmet, interested in bird entrails and other exotic foods, which I partook of on several occasions.

looking out of the shrine at people waiting outside

262. Harumime Jinja Devotion
Inside the shrine, looking out through the doors. The box in the doorway is for donations. Outside, there is an incense burner; the man is passing his hand through the incense smoke and then to his face, to transfer the shrine protection and luck to his persona. This, it was believed, would help in protecting his farmhouse against fire.

a grave marker in the mountains (highly ornate wooden box)

263. Mountain Grave Marker
Not a shrine, but a grave box or offering. A local custom in these mountain valleys. The box was made of very thin wood, which would rot away in a year or two. It was believed to hold the essence of benign local spirits who would protect the grave.