While Japanese historians have characterized the period from the 1720's to the mid-nineteenth century one of a “stagnant” population due to depressed economic conditions, recent economic evidence suggests that peasants were enjoying a higher standard of living. By making use of demographic data obtained from the shūmon-aratame-chō (religious investigation registers), the hypotheses that the standard of living was rising and that the Japanese were controlling population were tested for Fujito village of Okayama. The population increased from 596 to 694 between 1775–1863. In the 1820's, with rapid economic growth in the form of land reclamation and the increased adoption of farm by-employments, principally weaving, the natural growth rate of the population was rejected through an analysis of the effects of the Temmei famine (1780's) and the Tempō famine (1830's). Rather, the slow rate of growth was due to the smallest number of children ever born to women in the village (mean of just over three), resulting from a high age at first birth (24.6 years) and a relatively low age at last birth (35–37 years). The low age at last birth, added to a statistically biased sex ratio of last-born children (favoring males), indicate that abortion and infanticide were probably practiced to some degree. This fact, combined with the economic development of the nineteenth century, suggest that in Japan, as in England, premodern population was kept at closer to an optimum rather than a maximum level, making possible rapid industrialization.

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