Matsutake mushroom are yummy, expensive and wild, since the artificial cultivation of matsutake has not yet been successful. The problem? The annual yield of matsutake has declined steadily after peaking in the 1950s html .
It is hard to understand the dynamics of matsutake (wiki ) production in Japan, without understanding the japanese traditional commons: iriaiken. The "Whole Bidding Systems" for matsutake are one expression of iriaiken. They were mostly established during the dramatic socio-economical changes after Meiji Period, and they were successfully persisting over centuries.
Since mid 19th century, the commercialization of matsutake was rapidly expanding (some are sold for more than 1000 USD a kilo). Since the 1960th, however, production declined drastically due to two factors: the decline of their habitats - especially the disappearance and a disease of the Japanese red pine with which matsutake is associated; and the disconnection from "traditional commons practices", such as collective harvesting, clearing undergrowth and leaflitter that is gathered as fuel or fertilizer and thereby thinning the forests improving the growth-conditions for the mushrooms.
In any case, despite the high market price of matsutake, it was not harvesting pressure that originated the decline. It's more: these problems could not be resolved, where a modern individual property rights framework was applied. But they could, where a spirit of the commons prevailed.
... habitat for matsutake was not improved when land owners were guaranteed the gathering rights to matsutake growing on their own individual lands. Instead, habitat improvement was most successful and matsutake production was highest on community-owned lands in Oka. (Saito/Mitsumata, p.1)
The study we refer to is focuses on the Kyoto region. In 1978, the Association for Promotion of Matsutake Production of Kyoto was established. Deliberate operations to promote habitat improvement throughout the prefecture began. The work of the association, which did not consist of individual villagers but of villages, was subsidised with 50% funding of the Japanese government and 10% by the prefecture; cf Strengthen Commons Public Circuits. In 1985, habitat improvement operations have been conducted "on 405 sites totaling 310 ha in 15 districts (Fujita 1987), and in almost all cases the sites were communal forests as opposed to privately held lands." (p.8)
# Relationalize Property in Japanese Villages. The Basics - Kyoto Prefecture (wiki ) has been famous for matsutake production and consumption - a unique traditional bidding system for matsutake gathering was developed over the centuries, dating back to "1665, when Kamigamo shrine called for bids to sell the gathering rights ... in its forests to inhabitants in the neighborhood, and then collected the bidding income as well as a tax on the amount gathered."(p. 2) - first village bidding processes in Kyoto prefecture date back to the 19th century - by mid-20th almost all villages in Kyoto Prefecture did village-matsutake bids
... villages - deeply influenced by iriai/ iriaiken viewed matsutake as a common property yielding common profit.
# Property based on Iriaiken
When communal forests were divided and privatized after the Meiji Period, many villages adopted with a so called Whole Bidding System, not only their own Peer Governance tool but found also a way to keep following the iriaiken spirit. The system "conflicted with modern concepts of private ownership. The whole "production chain" from the bidding process to finance local forestry or infrastructure projects was/is controled by the whole commmunity.
Under the Whole Bidding System, even if a villager owns a matsutake-yama (a forest or mountain where matsutake grows), he must bid for the right to harvest the matsutake growing on that land. ... and those who do hold the exclusive rights to the gathering and selling of matsutake and related benefits (eating, gifting) change from year to year through the bidding process.(ibid. p.3)
How individual, formal property and actual use rights are conceived is illustrated below. What is under the surface, what nurtures the mastutake and generates abundance - belongs to all villagers, regardless of the formal property rights above the surface. Therefore, all villagers are entitled to decide upon the actual use rights of what grows on the - commonly and individually owned - plots.
It is like saying: why are those who drill the petrole be the owners of the petrol itself? Isn't something that has been formed over millions of years without any human contribution simply inappropriable (see, inapprobriability. In fact, this traditional approach, which is based on the soyu-theory, is inspiring for future natural resource use (see Suga 2004).
No wonder, the iriai principle has become increasingly unacceptable in recent times, particularly for those that own matsutake-yama. Examples are the villages in Kanegawachi and Takatsu, where the argument was made that "it [is] unreasonable that rights related to matsutake are separated and different from ownership rights over other facets of the forest. In their view, every landowner has the right to the fruits of his or her land on the one hand, and ought to pay a fixed asset (property) tax on the other. It has also been argued that the older customs, by not guaranteeing enough rights to matsutake-yama owners, acted as a disincentive to landowners to carry out the habitat improvements needed to enhance matsutake production." (ibid. p.16)
In Takatsu, as in Kanegawachi, those who complained were mostly younger villagers who had outside work other than agriculture and forestry and
they insisted that the owners of matsutake-yama should have guaranteed gathering rights. They also demanded that a part of the bidding income collected by the Association should be returned to matsutake-yama owners. Moreover, they argued that the Whole Bidding System discouraged them from undertaking habitat improvements on their own forests by denying them the right to gather matsutake from those same forests. (p.12)
# The Whole Bidding System in Oka: How does it work? This unique system is not only an example to Relationalize Property, it actually combines it with several other patterns of commoning such as Assure Consent in Decisionmaking, Ritualize Togetherness, Deepen Communion with Nature, Pool, Cap & Mutualize, Peer Monitor & Apply Graduated Sanctions and Finance Commons Provisioning. And this is how it works:
- the terrain is divided into five parcels - gathering rights for three of the five parcels are auctioned off as in other villages - however, two parcels are reserved for weekly gathering expeditions by cooperative-members -> held every Sunday during the matsutake season at one of the two designated parcels. "All participants climb up to the forest at the same time and gather matsutake together. In 2003, the highest daily amount harvested jointly was 28 kg. Afterwards the harvested matsutake are assembled and distributed to all participants in equal amounts, except when they are reserved for a joint feast that is held after the harvesting." (p.14) -> This practice is notable because it is highly unusual for villagers to maintain matsutake rights collectively during both the gathering and disposal or consumption phases. No complaints have been made about these customs in Oka." (ibid) - the two types of parcels rotate, that is, a parcel that is bid out one year may be reserved for joint harvest the next year - only the Cooperative’s members are allowed to participate in the bidding meeting and joint harvesting - all income from the bidding goes to the Cooperative and is spent on services for members and on the purchase of tools for habitat improvement.
# Communal Finance and Matsutake Production in Oka - almost all of the Cooperative’s revenue comes from matsutake bidding income with no remarkable decline in recent years (study dating from 2004) - Oka cooperative gained ¥329,000 in 2003 from bidding income, which is not distributed to each member in cash, but used for a group tour each year (paying part of the cost) - matsutake production is stable thanks to continuous habitat improvement efforts, where - since 1962- deyaku is practiced (compulsory work days, Honor Care & Decommodify Work - member can choose a preferred day from two days designated for deyaku - a member who doesn’t participate in deyaku must pay a ¥7,000 penalty to the cooperative, but the majority takes part (only little income from sanctions) - work methods are discussed for cutting small trees and ericaceous shrubs and assemble them for clearing the forest floor (Fig. 5). - and it works greatly to Ritualize Togetherness, as the
"regime [was] continually practiced since 1962, the work that day was easy and a sociable atmosphere prevailed -- the female participants especially enjoyed talking to each other, and a break was held every 30 minutes."
# The Partial Bidding System and Conclusion
Researchers conclude, that the extinguishing of the iriai land use system ([iriaiken]] has had negative effects on both village finances and matsutake productivity. Villages which followed another path than Oka, as for instance Kanegawachi or Takatsu
face financial problems since ceding collective use of matsutake-yama under the Whole Bidding System in favor of private (or mostly private) use under the Partial Bidding System. They have now had to introduce membership fees or other taxes in order to overcome the shortfall." (p....)
A Partial Bidding System has several variations: owners can retain the exclusive right to gather matsutake on one parcel of THEIR choice, while the remaining parcels enter the bidding process, a considerable percentage (60-70%) of money raised in the bidding process will be given to each matsutake-yama owner and so on. In any case: "personal property rights were enhanced at the expense of the traditional principle of iriai" (p.10)
The result? In villages with a Partial Bidding System, the forest doesn’t seem to benefit the villagers any more, nor does it generate communal income (for infrastructure, schools, fire brigades, festivities) anymore. Kanegawachi is such a case: Since the Whole Bidding System was turned into the Partial Bidding system in 1999, "bidding income has declined from 250.000 Yen in the early 1990 to 60.000 Yen in 2004 (p.10)
Nor does the motivation of working for matsutake habitat enhancement of matsutaka-yama owners stop declining. A vicious circles has been created.
By contrast, the joint habitat improvement work sessions (deyaku), the direct return of benefits from the Whole Bidding Process to the villagers, and the very tangible benefits and social aspects from "commoning matsutake" - "to be hunted down, picked, handled, divided up and feasted upon, and group trips financed in part by the bidding"... "surely strengthen community ties as well as raise motivation for continued deyaku..." The result is a virtuous cycle: villagers participate in deyaku for ongoing habitat improvement, productivity of matsutake doesn’t decline, villagers benefit from the matsutake, the forest continues to have allure, and villagers continue to participate in deyaku to keep the forest productive, etc." (p.18)
This virtuous cycle is being constantly recreated where the iriai tradition is strong, for instance in Oka,
# See also
H. Saito and G. Mitsumata (2008): Reviving Lucrative Matsutake Mushroom Harvesting and Restoring the Commons in Contemporary Japan, Ostrom Workshop, pdf
-> The paper compares bidding systems for allotment of matsutake gathering rights in three villages with different practices, to examine the impact of these arrangements on village finances, matsutake production, and enhancement of matsutake habitat.
Anna Lowenhaupt Tsing (2015): The Mushroom at the End of the World On the Possibility of Life in Capitalist Ruins, Princeton University Press, Princeton and Oxford, - about the bidding and auctionning processes in Yunnan/China: pages 268-274.