Monday, April 02, 2007

An Early Loan Shark

The Niigata City Branch of the Northern Culture Museum pays tribute to the contributions to local history made by the Ito family,whose exploits date to the Meiji Era. The Itos began as modest landlords in the late 19th century, but by the 1920's they owned 3300 acres, one of the largest feudal fiefdoms in all of Japan. This they accomplished by extending loans to impoverished peasants and seizing their land in the event of default. The dispossessed peasants became tenants on their former property. At one time as many as nine hundred farming families, comprising 60 small communities, worked lands controlled by the Itos. After Japan's defeat in WWII, the U.S. Occupation confiscated all such estates and embarked on an ambitious land redistribution scheme. The Ito mansion, located a few kilometers outside present-day Niigata City, became the Main Branch of the Northern Culture Museum, while the Itos vast landholdings were parceled out to small farmers in the area. The family would appear to be in general decline, for the direct male line ended a generation ago, the current Mr. Ito being an adoptee. There is a Master Ito, however, a little brat with whom my son has the misfortune to be an elementary school classmate.

No comments: