Abstract: The House of Homma: Organizational Reinvention in Early Modern Japan

Linda L. Johnson


The House of Homma was one of the few business organizations that successfully made the transition from the highly regulated markiets of early modern (Tokugawa, 1600-1868) Japan to the freer markets associated with imperial restoration inthe modern period (Meiji Restoration, 1868). From the seventeenth century to the twentieth century, before World War II, the Homma successfully negotiated the changes in government regulation, reinventing their organization from retailmerchants, to rice brokers, to moneylenders, and finally landlords having the largest holdings in prewar Japan. During the early modern period, their financial expertise provided local political authorities and peasant cultivators with the financial protection to withstand the vicissitudes of crop losses and exigencies associated with with feudal government. Leaders in the commercialization of the Shonai Plain (present-day Yamagata Prefecture) into one of the most reliably high-producing rice regions in Japan. Perhaps the most striking characteristic of the Homma is their reputation as traditionalists; during the upheavals associated with rice cultivation and marketing, the Homma maintained the practices associated with tenant relations that they developed in the early eighteenth century.