2.5. Japanese Rule - Private Property of Land

In 1905, Korea became a Japanese protectorate and was annexed in 1910. The Japanese administration immediately started a land survey which, in 8 years and with 3,400 .surveyors, covered 4.8 million ha. The purpose was to establish the land value as a tax basis, the existing rights on land, and to identify the topography. At the same time, the legal basis for the sale, mortgage, and exchange of land was prepared. Then, a report system was used to establish private ownership rights and to bring land into Japanese hands. Whoever reported as owner was acknowledged as such. This system was known only to the Japanese and some members of the Korean upper class, and they took advantage of their knowledge. For the first time, full private property of land with the right to sell was legally established.

As a result, the Japanese and Korean feudal ruling class became landowners, usually absentee landlords, while the hereditary tiller on the land, who, hitherto, had to pay a tax only to the feudalist, became a tenant. This new dependency was exploited, and, in addition to the rent, gifts had to be given in order to avoid dismissal. The rent, together with the value of gifts, equalled 50-90 per cent of the production. Deteriorating prices as compared to input prices also caused many small peasants to become indebted. Many of them migrated to other countries at that time, or lost their rights and became agricultural labourers. Under these conditions, all the plans to increase rice production failed, as did the projects for land reclamation in spite of subsidies. Landlords found it easier to exact higher rents from tenants than to take the risk of investing in land clearing. Altogether, in 1945, half of all farms which had 70 per cent of paddy land was operated by tenants. Their misery only increased when, during the war, more food was exacted from Korea.