AGRICULTURAL REFORMS IN JAPAN: CONSOLIDATING FARMS, IMPROVING SUBSIDIES, CREATING INCENTIVES

AGRICULTURAL REFORMS IN JAPAN

Agricultural policy makers are frustrated by conflicting goals that are difficult to resolves especially when their high costs are factored in. While making reforms to preserve the domestic farming sector and making adaptions so that Japan can enter free trade agreements, the government also has to enhance this nation's food self-sufficiency rate and the international competitiveness of its farms.

Many think: 1) farmland should be consolidated to promote large-scale farming to reduce production costs; 2) the distribution system of agriculture products should reformed to enable farmers to more easily purchase equipment and supplies and expand their sales routes and sell products at lower prices to consumers while taking a large percentage of the salves revenues for themselves; and 3) foreign markets could be targeted, taking advantage of the high quality of Japan's farm products.

Reforms proposed by the Economy, Trade and Industry Ministry (METI) include: 1) Making the best use of the expertise the ministry has acquired in promoting small and midsize companies; 2) Applying techniques and managerial systems of manufacturing companies to the envisioned agricultural limited liability companies (LLCs) See Below for information on LLCs; and 3) Stepping up efforts to expand farm exports to other Asian markets.

The ministry also believes lowering the cost of fertilizers and farm machinery will help reinvigorate the farming sector. The report said that to improve the agricultural sector it was important to ensure stable fertilizer supplies at lower prices. It also said new models of tractors, combines and other farm machines should be developed that had fewer functions and lower price tags.

What a University of Tokyo Professors Thinks Should be Done

University of Tokyo’s Shinichi Shogenji wrote in the Yomiuri Shimbun: “I think the government should phase out the rice-acreage reduction program. It should also work to offset the impact of drops in rice prices by extending greater assistance to households that exclusively engage in farming. Doing so would address problems farmers could face if tariffs are cut. There is also room for improvement in the Agricultural Land Law---for instance, relaxing regulations on farming corporations. I believe, however, that legislative changes made to the law in 2009 have removed obstacles to the integration of small tracts of farmland.”[Source: Shinichi Shogenji, Yomiuri Shimbun, January 14, 2011]

“Still, problems remain in the promotion of farmland integration. For example, land integration is carried out by several separate organizations in each region. Different bodies---local agriculture committees; city, town and village governments; farmers' cooperatives---each run their own land integration programs. An investigation is needed into whether these organizations are truly abiding by the spirit of the revised Agricultural Land Law, which emphasizes the need to serve the interests of farmers seeking to integrate their land.” [Ibid]

“Agricultural cooperatives also have a host of problems, including the influence they exert on politicians and political parties. But I believe the shift in power from a Liberal Democratic Party-led government to a DPJ-led administration in 2009 fundamentally changed the relationship between agricultural cooperatives and politicians. In the years ahead, the raison d'etre of agricultural cooperatives will be tested, first and foremost in terms of what they do for farmers. Given that the government is effectively not involved in setting agricultural prices any more, cooperatives must explore what role they should play as produce sellers. In recent years, some agricultural cooperatives have assisted rural residents who have difficulty shopping for daily necessities. Helping their communities in different ways might be an additional role for cooperatives.” [Ibid]

“Progress in trade liberalization is bound to affect the food industry, but this issue can often be overlooked. Increased imports of low-priced processed and prepared food can have a grave impact on the employment situation in rural areas. With this in mind, it is important for consumers, as well as the manufacturing and agricultural industries, to become aware of the advantages---and disadvantages---trade liberalization would bring. For years, the agricultural community has been criticized for being preoccupied with self-centered interests. The farming industry should think about the benefits and harm its activities bring to people from all walks of life, including city dwellers.” [Ibid]

Implementing European-Style Reforms

In February 2011, according to Kyodo News “Japanese Foreign Minister Seiji Maehara vowed that Japan will carry out fundamental agricultural reforms modeled after the European system of direct payments to farmers to help strengthen the local farm sector’s competitiveness and promote trade liberalization. Speaking at a forum for institutional investors, the minister said Japan will pursue high-level free trade agreements with its economic partners and at the same time encourage “a flourishing agricultural sector and prosperous rural districts at home.” [Source: Kyodo, February 28, 2011]

“Maehara said both the European Union and South Korea have implemented drastic reforms to brace for the impact that regional market integration and liberalization will have on the farm sector. He pointed out that the direct payment system in the E.U.’s 27-nation regional bloc has “Succeeded in achieving two goals at once: bringing benefits to the consumer by reducing high tariffs and making producers more competitive.” [Ibid]

“Through the system, farmers can better prepare for cheaper agricultural imports flowing into the domestic market due to trade liberalization and causing the prices of domestic farm products to fall. Maehara also said Japan “can look to increase both public and private-sector investment in agriculture overseas”to help secure a reliable and stable supply of food for the country. “The introduction of safe, dependable and high-quality food production technology would help to increase production” abroad, he said. “At the same time, a part of the resulting harvest could be exported to Japan, leading to a win-win situation.”? [Ibid]

As an example, Maehara said Japan can export its solar-powered “vegetable factory” technology to regions with scarce water resources such as the Middle East and Africa. The plant, which allows for the cultivation of produce such as leaf greens using only artificial lighting, would solve water and food shortages as well as environmental problems, he said. [Ibid]

Consolidating Farms in Japan

The amount of acreage under cultivation has a large impact on the profitability of rice farming. Statistics for 2009 from the Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Ministry have shown that the average household income for rice farmers with 20 hectares or more under cultivation was nearly ¥ 12 million a year, while those with less than 1 hectare operated at a loss of ¥138,000, showing that farm income increases with land consolidation.

“At present, however, less than 6 percent of agriculture corporations and farming households plant more than 50,000 square meters of rice,” the Yomiuri Shimbun reported. “About 80 percent have less than 20,000 square meters in rice. Like other areas, a host of regulations hamper rice paddy consolidation. Some land-owners worry that if they lease their land---which has often been passed down for generations---they will have trouble getting it back. Such attitudes hinder a wider participation in farming. [Source: Yomiuri Shimbun, December 3, 2010]

“Increasingly large corporations are running large farms. A farm owned and operated by Watami Co., an operator of izakaya pub chains and other ventures, emphasizes straight-from-the-farm and organic produce, The firm grows vegetables such as lettuce and mizuna for its izakaya at eight farms with a total area of 2 million square meters. Watami also runs a cattle ranch, is engaged in rice production and is looking into creating a brand of rice for export.” [Ibid]

“Sweeping institutional reform, including further revision of the farmland law, is necessary to encourage new participants in the agricultural sector and to speed up land consolidation. Only this will revitalize the domestic agriculture industry. The 2009 year's revision of the Agricultural Land Law stopped short of achieving its goal of encouraging a switch from owning to using farmland.” [Ibid]

Encouraging the Consolidation of Farms with LLCs

In February 2011, the Economy, Trade and Industry Ministry (METI) put together a package of measures to boost farm production and keep costs down by consolidating farmland through the introduction of limited liability companies (LLCs), a business concept more flexible than joint stock companies. METI and the Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Ministry will establish a joint study panel to discuss specific ways to bring production costs down, officials said. [Source: Yomiuri Shimbun, February 24, 2011]

An LLC is designed to allow more flexibility for the owners, who are called "members" rather than "shareholders." According to the Yomiuri Shimbun, “In the United States, LLCs operate under the statutes of state governments. While LLCs are similar to joint stock companies as their owners have limited personal liability for debts and corporate actions, they are allowed to decide freely on how to allocate profits among the members through articles of incorporation. Dividend payments in joint stock companies, by contrast, are by law made in proportion to their investment ratios.” [Ibid]

Unlike joint stock companies that can sell farms they operate at any time if they prove unprofitable, LLC-owned farmland is very difficult to unload under the new Companies Law, as the land can only be sold if all LLC members agree. This reassures farmers, particularly elderly ones, that they will not lose their land, the officials said. "Since no key decisions can be made without unanimous approval, farmers can rest assured their farms won't be sold to third parties," an official said. "In addition," he said, "LLC flexibility allows people entering the farming sector to gain dividends in a way suited to the LLCs, not necessarily in proportion to investment ratios among their owners." [Ibid]

Revised Farming Land Law, Regulations and Offering Incentives to Farmers

The revised farming land law, which was enforced in December 2009, raises the corporate investment ceiling permitted in an agricultural incorporated body from 25 percent to just under 50 percent. The law deregulates corporate leasing of agricultural land in principle. [Source: December 1, 2010]

In 2009 Pasona Inc., a major temporary manpower agency, announced it would establish an agricultural incorporated body by taking advantage of the revised law. The firm planned to operate an onion farm over an expanse of land in Awaji, Hyogo Prefecture, a place famous for onion production due to its mild weather, and to hire young people interested in farming. But the firm was urged to review its plan given the prospects of low profitability and the legal need to secure an investment partner from among farming families under the revised agricultural land law, which limits corporate investment to less than 50 percent in a given project. [Ibid]

Despite revised Agricultural Land Law tight controls remain on farmland ownership, and there are requirements that a majority of sales come from agriculture and a majority of board members be farmers. Corporate bitterness abounds toward the constraints of the law and their lack of relevance to reality. Yoshinoya Co., the gyudon beef bowl chain, and Nomura Holdings, Inc., a major securities and financial firm, have invested in the onion and tomato growing business, respectively. At first glance, this corporate participation in agriculture might seem spectacular, but many of the ventures operate in the red. Watami Chairman Miki Watanabe expressed his frustration over eight years of poor performance, saying, "There's no business as restricted [as farming]." [Source: Yomiuri Shimbun, December 3, 2010]

"If new capital is needed, you need to go through a complicated approval process at a board meeting. Running a flexible, responsive farm is impossible under these conditions," said one businessperson involved in farming. "A lot of land leases are short-term, which makes it tough to make medium- or long-term investment plans," another said.

Koichi Uetake wrote in the Yomiuri Shimbun, “In December 2010, the Japanese government decided to offer incentives encouraging farmers to expand their operations from fiscal 2011 to help improve efficiency and competitiveness in the agricultural sector. The incentives, which will be tacked on to uniform benefits under the income compensation program for individual farming households, will be extended to farmers that increase the area under cultivation of rice and several other specified products.” [Source: Koichi Uetake, Yomiuri Shimbun, December 4, 2010]

“Farmers that increase tillage will benefit from both the increase in productivity that usually comes with expanded acreage as well as the government handouts, officials said. Under the current plan, however, additional benefits for increasing cultivation will be limited to a single year. Additionally, revenue sources to finance the incentives have yet to be decided upon. Since the incentive program does not offer anything to those parting with their land, industry analysts have questioned the extent to which the program will help consolidate farmland.” [Ibid]

Subsidies for Japanese Farmers

The Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) enacted the a “gentan” policy of reducing rice acreage to no more than 60 percent of Japan’s paddies to prevent sharp declines in the price of rice caused by a supply glut. The LDP feared that falling prices would affect the farmer’s bottom line and cost the party votes in rural areas. This also why the LDP put huge tariffs in imported rice to protect domestic farmers. But the rice acreage curtailed scheme backfired, A large number of rice farmers lost interest in farming after not being able to grow rice freely. Their children abandoned farming altogether and moved to the cities, leaving farming communities in disarray and farmland unattended. [Source: Junichi Maruyama, Yomiuri Shimbun, May 2010]

Junichi Maruyama wrote in the Yomiuri Shimbun, “The Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) government elected in August 2010 proposed rectifying this situation by compensating farmers for losses they might suffer with, at least in theory anyway, the increased burden on tax payers being compensated by lower rice prices. Under the DPJ system cash handouts are given to individual farming households to help compensate for the drop in income after discontinuing rice production.” [Ibid]

The DPJ introduced a subsidy system for farmers aimed at supporting farmers and raising the self sufficiency of Japanese agriculture. Under the scheme, launched in 2010, all farmers that put their rice on the market are eligible for a uniform ¥15,000 in direct income subsidy per 0.1 hectares (1,000 square meters) of land. If a rice farmer suffers larger than expected loss he will receive additional compensation. Compensation payments are calculated to reflect the difference between the national average production cost of rice and the sales price received for the rice. The ¥15,000 payment is made even to farmers who are earn a large profit.

A total of 1.33 million households are eligible for the subsidies. The program began when ¥7.4 billion was paid to 2,116 households in Hokkaido in November 2010. Under the plan the government will spend over ¥ 1 trillion a year on the income compensation program, which covers rice and other farming products. There are plans to provide subsidies for wheat and soybean growers too.

Many have criticized the scheme for not achieving its aims---chiefly to provide more income for farmers and better food security for Japan---and for taking money out the hands of people and organizations that really need it. The program is expensive and depletes the government treasury and raises government debt. If trade liberalization lowers the prices of farming products, the amount of compensation paid will balloon, putting a greater burden on government coffers.

Problems with the Subsidies for Farmers

As it stands, the income compensation program resembles a handout policy, providing the same funding to people who engage in agriculture only on weekends as to motivated farmers who want to expand their farms. According to statistics from the Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Ministry, the average income of households that primarily engage in agriculture is 5.48 million yen. The average among part-time farmers with other sources of income, such as salaried work, is 5.92 million yen. Sixty percent of farming households have side jobs that provide them with a stable income. Some say the government's assistance should be focused on full-time farming households, which play a central role in the industry. [Source: Yomiuri Shimbun, December 1 and 4, 2010]

The system often has been abused by some farmers who try to have their leased land returned for the purpose of receiving compensation money. A farmer who returned his rented land to its owner told the Yomiuri Shimbun: "I've heard of similar cases happening in other areas, too. Such cases are occurring more frequently in areas where rice acreage consolidation is progressing."

According to the Yomiuri Shimbun. “The income compensation scheme is adversely affecting farmers in yet another way. Farmer Shoichiro Omura, 32, who cultivates about 10 hectares of rice paddies, has been frustrated by a rice dealer's request for a discount on the rice Omura sends him. Omura believes the dealer is trying to take advantage of the government's program, which also covers the gap if the market price of rice falls below participating farmers' production costs. A farm ministry survey has shown that one in 10 rice farmers have been asked to lower their prices.

Subsidies for Farmers Discourage Consolidation

The subsidy program is a major obstacle to farm consolidation, one of the major agricultural reforms needed if Japan is going to make its agricultural sector more efficient and productive. Many farmers want to consolidate their land to operate on a larger scale, but the income compensation, which is provided irrespective of farm size, is instead helping to split up farmland. [Source: Yomiuri Shimbun, December 4, 2010]

The problem with the subsidy scheme is that income compensations are not provided to farmers who refuses to comply with the LDP acreage reduction policy and compensation payments are made to farmers tending small inefficient farmers, This encourages small farmers to hold on their inefficient farm rather than selling or leasing selling them so they can get the subsidies---discouraging the creation of a larger more efficient farm system. [Ibid]

The Yomiuri Shimbun described a 64-year-old former carpenter recently "returned" to his family's farming business in Gonohemachi, a town in southern Aomori Prefecture to get the money provided by the subsidy program. For the last 40 years, an agricultural corporation and others have taken care of the rice paddies belonging to the man's family. "I'd never even planted rice seedlings before," he said. Now, however, he can receive 180,000 yen from the government for the 12 hectares of rice paddies he has taken back. [Ibid]

In contrast, since autumn last year a tenant farmer cultivating about 100 hectares of rice paddies in northern Kumamoto Prefecture has received a number of applications from landowners wanting to cancel his lease contracts. The Kumamoto man is frustrated by the requests, which the owners apparently have made so they can receive income compensation from the government. Not wanting to create friction, however, he has kept his feelings to himself. An increasing number of owners across the country are trying to get their farmland back from tenants for similar reasons. [Ibid]

Reforming the Subsidies Scheme

The system has been criticized even by some DPJ lawmakers. Masashi Mito, a DPJ member of the House of Councillors, said consolidating farmland would not make headway if compensation payouts remained uniform nationwide. [Source: Yomiuri Shimbun, December 4, 2010]

The government needs to revise the system so it will encourage farmers to expand their farms' size and enhance productivity. To achieve such goals, the government should consider ways to provide better compensation in proportion to farm size and give an advantage to farmers experienced in large-scale farming operation. [Ibid]

In October 2010, the Yamagata Prefectural Assembly approved a written opinion calling for the revision of the income compensation system, in particular the fixed cash handout amount. The practice of forcing farmers to withdraw from rented land hinders efforts to enhance agricultural efficiency, the written opinion says. [Ibid]

If an improved income compensation program can help large farms become more competitive, the government will be able to end its rice paddy reduction program. This would likely enable farmers to reduce rice prices and export rice. "We must stop the rice paddy reduction program so rice prices will fall and become internationally competitive," said Kazuhito Yamashita, a former farm ministry bureaucrat. [Ibid]

Drive Underway to Export Value-Added Products

“Another important task is to enhance the international competitiveness of domestic agricultural products, the Yomiuri Shimbun reported. “The current Diet session has seen passage of a bill to encourage the consolidation of production, processing and sales of farm produce, thereby enhancing the added-value of agricultural products. “In a related move, Yamagata Prefecture and Shonai Bank opened a school to teach the production, processing and marketing of agricultural products in an integrated manner. Fukushima Prefecture, for its part, launched a similar school....Thus, local governments have shown keen interest in promoting consolidation in the agricultural sector.[Source: Yomiuri Shimbun, December 1, 2010]

“The image of Japanese food products as safe and secure has taken root in other Asian countries. High-grade wagyu beef, apples produced in Aomori Prefecture and yams harvested in Hokkaido already have a competitive edge in export markets. Efforts also must be made to enhance the competitiveness of rice as an export item, observers said.” [Ibid]

A drive is under way to increase the export value-added products such as high-quality rice and produce. The Yomiuri Shimbun described At Shin Kong Place, an upscale department store in Beijing's business district, packages of Koshihikari rice---a popular brand harvested in Japan---were displayed prominently on the basement food floor. At the store, which has many affluent customers, the rice costs 198 yuan (about 2,500 yen) for two kilograms---about 25 times the average price of rice sold in China. Despite the hefty price tag, one woman put a bag of Koshihikari in her shopping basket without flinching. [Source: Yomiuri Shimbun, December 5, 2010]

Exports of Tokachi Kawanishi Nagaimo, a brand of yam produced in Obihiro, Hokkaido, have doubled in value to 400 million yen over the past decade. Initially, when a bumper crop produced too many of the yams, surplus crops were shipped to Taiwan. However, large yams used for medicinal dishes brought higher prices in Taiwan than those sold in Japan, leading to the increase in their export. [Ibid]

Making Japanese Agriculture More Business-Like

“Promoting exports requires expertise in market research, product development and sales,” the Yomiuri Shimbun reported. “More people in the field are aiming to achieve so-called sixth industrialization, which combines the advantages of the three industrial-sector economic theory---primary (extraction of raw materials), secondary (manufacturing) and tertiary (services).” [Source: Yomiuri Shimbun, December 5, 2010]

“At the foot of Mt. Asama in Miyotamachi, Nagano Prefecture, Hideki Shimazaki, 51, who previously worked at a major confectioner, is aiming to establish a "profitable agricultural" model. Shimazaki's business, which includes growing lettuce and Chinese cabbage, generates more than 1 billion yen in sales annually. The apparent key to his success is that he creates his own sales network and does not use agricultural cooperatives. Taking advantage of his sales experience, Shimazaki has established a direct-selling system encompassing 50 companies."Agriculture lacks the matter-of-fact business approach of ensuring that product development and costs respond to customer needs," he said. "If we incorporate this idea, we can counter cheaper imports." [Ibid]

“In some cases, the agriculture, commerce and industry sectors have successfully combined their strengths and made coordinated efforts to boost business. Agricultural business entrepreneurs, who formerly were company employees, have brought a breath of fresh air---and boosted sales---of the aojiso beefsteak plant (green shiso) harvested in Toyohashi, Aichi Prefecture. By linking up with the municipal government and commerce association in Takkomachi, Aomori Prefecture, entrepreneurs have turned around the local garlic industry that had been battered by imported Chinese garlic.” [Ibid]

“However, exporting agricultural commodities still faces many challenges. For example, China has strict quarantine rules and only designated companies are allowed to operate in the country. Japanese farmers have complained about China's complicated procedures when rice exports are changed from raw to processed products. Some even grumble that Japanese agricultural cooperatives have been reluctant to export farm produce.” [Ibid]

Agriculture Policy and Free Trade

The Japanese government also wants to liberalize the farm market to make easier to set economic partnership agreements (EPAs), or free trade agreements. To this Japan would need to lower tariffs on agricultural good, which would could lead to a flood of cheap products from the United States and Australia and drive down prices, negatively affecting Japanese farmers, and derails Japan’s plan to be more self sufficient in food production. To offset hardships for farmers, the Japanese government has proposed giving them more subsidies.

If Japan participates in the Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade initiative, its tariffs on agricultural produce are certain to be lowered. Farmers also will need to enhance their competitiveness by growing quality produce and selling them at low prices.

“As it is, Japanese farming is in crisis,” said Masayoshi Honma, a professor in agricultural economics at the University of Tokyo. The trade partnership, he said, could perhaps “serve as a much-needed shock therapy.”

Encouraging Young Farmers in Japan

The number of people who newly took up farming totaled 66,000 in 2009, most of them from farming families. New farmers who came from nonfarming sectors amounted to a mere 1,850. In November 2010, Prime Minister Kan revealed his sense of crisis over the aging farm population, acknowledging, "The agricultural land law restricts young people's participation in farming." [Source: Yomiuri Shimbun, December 3, 2010]

In January 2011, the Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Ministry has decided to offer 1 million yen annual grants to people who start farming after migrating from metropolitan areas to rural ones. Under the "U-turn, I-turn subsidy" program, the government aims to utilize uncultivated farmland and revitalize farming, which has been strained by declining numbers and advancing age. "U-turn" is a name given to the phenomenon of people returning from metropolitan regions to their hometowns, and "I-turn" is the phenomenon of city-born people moving to rural areas in search of work. [Ibid]

Getting more individuals involved in farming have made only slow and modest progress. A farmer in Niigata Prefecture said: " If you really want to be a farmer, you need an initial investment of at least a 5 million yen for machinery and fertilizer. But the financing and other assistance available to individual farmers? It's not enough." [Ibid]

Renting Farmland to Japanese Urbanintes

An increasing number of people are taking up farming as a hobby and renting small plots to grow their own vegetables and experience farming. Some farmers are making a good living renting out land to such people with the help of government subsidies to farmers who make their fields and expertise available to couples, families and schoolchildren.

Describing such a farmer Kenji Hall wrote in the Los Angeles Times, “Yoshikatsu Mochida strolls between the long, green rows of his field, pausing occasionally to inspect the mustard spinach and garland chrysanthemums that have grown shin-high.For more than a year, Mochida has divided some of his farmland on the outskirts of Yokohama into 8 feet by 40 feet plots, renting 70 of them to urbanites who come once a week to tend their crops.” [Source:Kenji Hall, Los Angeles Times, December 06, 2010]

“For an annual fee of about $500 per parcel, Mochida shows the elderly couples and young families how to plant seeds twice a year and when to water and harvest. They take home their vegetables, and Mochida receives government subsidies to help pay for water, seeds and tools.” "I put more energy into this than my own crops," he jokes. [Ibid]

“The part-timers are engaged in what's known here as shumatsu nogyo , or weekend farming,” Hall wrote. “Their daily lives are firmly rooted in crowded cities. But with no yard of their own, they sign up instead at nearby farms that teach the basics of horticulture. The seasoned ones rent their own pint-sized plots in public-run gardens, known as shimin noen ("people's farms"), on the fringes of Tokyo, Yokohama, Osaka and other cities.” [Ibid]

For Yohsuke Itoh, his wife, Kumiko, and their 5-year-old daughter, Fumi, working in Mochida's fields one day a week is the closest they come to the real thing. "Until we started coming in April, we had never spent a day on a farm," says Itoh, a 43-year-old engineer at IBM Japan. "Our daughter loves coming out here." . A few miles away, in a private rented field, Hideo Nokashi grows potatoes, herbs and leafy vegetables as a way "to unwind" on weekends. An intellectual property-rights lawyer, Nokashi says people like him are not so much interested in saving money as in getting the peace of mind that farming brings them after two decades of near-zero economic growth and job insecurity. "It's more convenient and cheaper to buy food in a supermarket," Nokashi says. "But I know people who couldn't be happier out here...A lot of people are realizing that having a connection to their natural surroundings is more important than amassing material possessions.” [Ibid]

“There are no reliable estimates of how many such farmers there are, but anecdotal evidence suggests that plenty of young city dwellers are taking up horticulture. Recently, Tokyo city government officials have been swamped with requests to rent 15 feet by 10 feet plots on public land in residential areas. "Applicants exceed the number of plots by 3 to 1, and many are young families," says Nobuyoshi Kato, in the Nerima ward office. [Ibid]

Underlying the trend is the philosophy of jisan jisho. A Kyoto farm-rental company claims to have coined the phrase, often translated as "local food for local consumption," which means to eat food that you grow yourself and has its roots in the local food movement. One of the most influential books promoting part-time farming is Naoki Shiomi's "Han No, Han X To lu Ikikata" ("Half Farmer, Half-X [Something Else Lifestyle]"). It details his decision to quit his job at an online retailer in the 1990s and divide his time between farming and environmental activism. Shiomi traces weekend farming to widespread food-safety concerns, following mad-cow disease outbreaks in Japan, the United States and Britain and the discovery in Japan of banned pesticides in dumplings from China. "Most people are still interested in agriculture more from a food standpoint than as a life choice," he says. [Ibid]

Image Sources:

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Yomiuri Shimbun, Daily Yomiuri, Japan Times, Mainichi Shimbun, The Guardian, National Geographic, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, Lonely Planet Guides, Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

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© 2008 Jeffrey Hays

Last updated August 2011

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