Iriaiken, the Japanese right of common. It reaches back to the periods before Meiji (wiki ). 'Iriai' literally means “to enter collectively”. 'Iriaiken' is therefore “the right to enter collectively.”

# Features

Iriaiken refers to the collective ownership of non-arable areas: mountains, forests, marshes, bamboo groves, riverbeds, offshore fisheries. Villagers had to observe rigid regulations, but were allowed to collect wood, edible plants, medical herbs, mushrooms, and more.

The extent of an iriaiken was linked to the existence of several villages, not an individual one! This "federation of villages" was considered as an (one) entity for ejecuting and enjoying this right of common, which was jealously guarded. An iriaiken could not be divided up among villages.

There were various types of iriaiken, according to different types of ownership. The most common type (collective ownership of an area by the inhabitants of several neighbouring villages) was called mura-mura-iriai.

山村では入会権が残っている場所が少なくない source

Another customary right of similar socio-economic importance was the right to use hot springs (onsen-ken). In comparison with the iriaiken, awareness of the economic importance of this right was slow to develop (springs as health spas and tourist attractions). However, in 1948 a Hot Spring Law was passed, recognizing as onsen only those hot springs that could comply with certain standards (temperature, mineral composition), fixed by the government.

# Historical Context

During the Edo Period (wiki ) there had been different forms of collective ownership (sòyù), joint right (gòyù) and joint ownership. In the late 19th century, the New Legal Code adopted the principles of the Roman Law and at the same time acknowledged as a rule of custom the right of common. The iriaiken was recognized as having the nature of joint ownership in modern japanese law.

Scholars attribute this legal respect for customs to the fact, that "the iriaiken itself did not represent a homo-geneous institution, applicable all over Japan. There were several types of iriaiken, depending on regional difference, which were too difficult and diverse to be unified in one or even several binding provisions." (Marutschke)

Even today there are special commissions and complex decision making processes to deal with problems of iriaiken; i.e. standards have not yet been unified

Matsutake production was highest on community-owned lands in Oka Village where the iriai tradition is strongest, see Commoning Matsutake in Oka source

However, conflict between a customary law system and a modern property law introduced through the Meiji Restoration wiki , was foreseeable. Especially with the recognition of private ownership of land and the conferring of land titles to protect the properties of legitimate title holders.

An example is the impact iriaiken-philosophy had on the context of matsutake production. In villages with joint ownership complex "Whole Bidding Systems" for the benefit of the community were in place. Documents from around 1900, when the village bidding systems were first developed state, that those who don’t have matsutake-yama should still enjoy the profit from the matsutake - underlying philosophy of iriai seems to permeate the traditional bidding process.

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. As these private forests were originally part of iriai forests, it can be seen that this apparent absurdity is rooted in the philosophy of iriai..., the traditional custom of jointly using the village lands, especially its matsutake resources. It is evident, then, that the iriai philosophy has persisted even after lands were privatized. (Saito/Mitsumata)

Now, in every bidding process there is a winner, who usually...:

holds exclusive rights until the 15th of November when the game hunting season starts. During this time ... no one, not even the land owners, can walk in their own forest even if it is not matsutake-yama without permission. If they try to even get near the forest area without permission, they may be suspected of being a matsutake thief. The revenue collected from bidding is used by villages to benefit their inhabitants. This is the main reason why villages have continued to practice the bidding system. ... the percentage of bidding income as a portion of total village revenue reaches 90% in some cases.


the bidding process, and in particular the Whole Bidding System, has come to be seen as irrational and counterproductive because in areas with a strong iriai tradition the landowners were not guaranteed gathering and selling rights for matsutake.

The clash of conceptions led to the preferential treatment of those holding any form of legal documentation, and consequently the rejection of the approved customary rights of the iriaiken, with problematic results. The WHOLE Bidding System was turned into a Partial Bidding System, undermining irikaien philosophy. In cases such as Kanegawachi, the increased emphasis on private ownership rights to matsutake didn’t contribute to the promotion of habitat improvement - which was one of the main arguments used.

No one had begun improvements after the change in bidding system. One interpretation ... advanced by two representatives of the Association is that the landowners who originally pressed for exclusive rights to the matsutake on their lands never intended to practice a matsutake enhancement regime, and that their concern was only for the immediate profit from their own land or for the principle of private ownership (versus iriai). Once they had secured the exclusive right to the matsutake on their land, their interest in matsutake production waned and they abandoned forest management completely. (Saito/Mitsumata: 13)

Today, much iriai land has been converted to suburbs, golf courses, and the like.

# See also

# Sources Hans Peter Marutschke (2015): Property Law—Real Rights in: Röhl (ed.) History of Law in Japan since 1868, p. 205-226), pdf Hidetoshi Nakao (1996): The Protection and Dissolution of Common (Iriaiken) by the State power, html

H. Saito and G. Mitsumata (2008): Reviving Lucrative Matsutake Mushroom Harvesting and Restoring the Commons in Contemporary Japan, Ostrom Workshop html