Labor Exchange Systems in Japan and DR Congo: Similarities and Differences

by Tatsuro Suehara


In this essay, I attempt a comparison of two labor exchange systems employed respectively by Japanese and Congolese (Tembo) peasants. The Japanese system is known as yui, while the Tembo system is called likilimbaYui and likilimba have several basic principles in common: (1) mutual assistance, (2) exchange of equal amount of labor, and (3) no use of money or hired labor. At the same time, they are completely different in several points. The most distinctive difference between the two systems is in the basic unit between which labor is exchanged. In the case of the yui system, it is between households that labor is exchanged, while, in the case of the likilimba system, it is between individuals that labor is exchanged. In the closing part of this essay, I argue that, with the development of the market economy, these non-monetary systems of reciprocal labor exchange will become more needed, rather than disappear, by demonstrating the recent revival of yui in Japanese society.

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Tatsuro Suehara is Professor in the Division of Natural Resource Economics, Graduate School of Agriculture, Kyoto University, Japan. His main research interests relate to food production and labor organizations in agrarian societies. Since the late 1970s he has conducted anthropological research among agrarian peoples in Central and East Africa, mainly the Tembo, the Lega, and the Shi in DR Congo, formerly known as Zaire, as well as the Kaguru in Tanzania. Apart from research in Africa, he has carried out extensive fieldwork in rural communities in Japan and France. His current area of interest is the history of urban agriculture in Japan, particularly in Kyoto, one of the oldest cities in the country.