large Hokkaido farm
Arable land (land good for agriculture): 11 percent (compared to 1 percent in Saudi Arabia, 20 percent in the United States, and 32 percent in France). Japan has a severe shortage of agriculture land. The United States has twice the population of Japan but also has 82 times as much arable land. The Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Ministry believes the country needs 4.61 million hectares of cultivated farmland to achieve a food self-sufficiency rate of 50 percent. The self-sufficiency rate currently stands at 39 percent.

There are two main types of agricultural fields in Japan: irrigated rice fields called “tambo” or “suiden”; and non-irrigated fields called “hatake” that are used mostly to grow vegetables. Although you can find some terraced rice fields in Japan, most rice is grown on low-lying alluvial plains and valley bottoms that are easy to irrigate. The hatale are often found on higher, drier ground that is difficult to irrigate.

Although farming and other primary industries, like mining, make up just 1.5 percent of gross domestic output, outdated election maps and effective organization by farmers give Japan’s rural communities disproportionate political power.The Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Ministry is the main agriculture bureaucracy. Land reform after World War II took land from powerful landowners and distributed it among ordinary farmers. The move helped make Japan a more equitable society but it also made agriculture much less efficient.

Currently, the nation's gross agricultural production totals about $100 billion, a decline of 30 percent from its peak. Agricultural output nearly halved from a peak of ¥7.84 trillion in 1992 to ¥4.81 billion in 2005. The only food items that Japan produces in sufficient quantities domestically are rice, eggs and things like onions and cucumbers. Japan relies on imports for most of the wheat and soybeans it consumes.

Japan’s food self-sufficiency ration dropped from 78 percent in 1961 to 39 percent in 2006 and stands at that figure now. The government want to raise the figure to 50 percent. The amount of land under cultivation in Japan declined from 6.09 million hectares in 1961 to 4.65 million hectares in 2006. An estimated 200,000 hectares of land at any time is idle.Rice production across Japan has fallen 20 percent in the past decade.

Websites and Resources


Good Websites and Sources on Agriculture: Good Photos at Japan-Photo Archive ; Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries ; Statistical Handbook of Japan Agriculture Chapter ; 2010 Edition ; News Agriculture Statistics, Japan ;30-page Google E-Book: Agriculture in Japan (1918) Agriculture and Food — Japan (2003) ; earthtrends.wri.or ; 30-page Google E-Book: Agriculture in Japan (1918) ; Tree Hugger article on “Japan’s Amazing Rice Fields and Farms”

Good Websites and Sources on Crops and Food: Japan Guide ; Japanese Vegetable Dishes on / ; Growing Japanese Vegetables ; Wikipedia article on Japanese Fruits Wikipedia ; pictures of Japanese Fruit ;Matsutake Mushrooms ; Swedish Site on Raising Matsutake Mushrooms in Japan ; Wikipedia article on Shiitake Mushrooms Wikipedia ; Green Tea Good Photos at Japan-Photo Archive ; Japanese Green Tea ; Japanese Green Tea Online ;

Good Websites and Sources on Rice Farming: Traditional Rice farming in Japan ; Rice Cultivation Photos ; Photos of Rice Terraces ; Rice Terrace Agriculture ; Wikipedia article on Japanese Rice Wikipedia ; Essay on Rice and History Japanese Rice Culture ; Tree Hugger article on “Japan’s Amazing Rice Fields and Farms” ;Rice Farming and Greenhouse Gases ; Mapping Paddy Rice Agriculture

Japanese Public Views About Agriculture

According to a Yomiuri Shimbun survey 80 percent of people thought it was advisable to provide people engaging in farming for the first time with government subsidies, while 15 percent opposed the idea. Respondents who favored allowing businesses to freely enter the agricultural field stood at 62 percent, compared to 27 percent who did not approve. These findings appear to indicate that most people would support a package of government steps designed to help reinvigorate the nation's agriculture. [Source: Yomiuri Shimbun, November 21, 2011]

“Asked what they thought about the possibility of the government increasing its direct subsidies to individual farmers, 59 percent of the pollees supported the idea, compared to 29 percent who did not. Asked about the impression they had of domestic farm produce, the most popular response was "very safe" with 73 percent. It was followed by "tasty" with 72 percent and "fresh" with 64 percent, while 22 percent said domestic farm products were "expensive." On farm produce from abroad, the most common impression was "low safety" with 76 percent, followed by "inexpensive" with 46 percent and "not fresh" with 33 percent.

Problems Faced by Farmers in Japan

The number of farmers is dwindling as existing ones get older and older and few young people take up farming and take their place. Prices for crops has been getting lower, which is bad for farmers. Abandoned, overgrown plots are common sights. In some places farmland prices have dropped 70 percent and the number of farmers have shrink by half since the early 1990s. A 57-year-old farmer told the New York Times, “Japanese agriculture has no money, no youth, no future.”

Efforts by farmers to accumulate land are hindered by price supports on farmland that were established to protect small farmer’s assets but make the land too expensive to buy. Quotas on rice production, set up to keep prices high, make it difficult top expand.

Farmers that do manage to accumulate more land find that the inflated land prices, limits on production and high cost of mechanized farming only means they lose more money than they did on smaller farms.

Cuts in rural public works projects in recent years has deprived farmers of extra income they used to count on. The global financial crisis in 2008 and 2009 deprived them of factory jobs they used to supplement their income.. Many blame the ruling LDP party — which has traditionally supported the — for their troubles.

Farmers face droughts and typhoons in the summer.

Agricultural Pests and Bees

Wild boars, monkeys, deer, crows, birds and other pests cause around ¥20 billion in crop damage annually and this rate is increasing by about 3 percent a year. One study found that 60 percent of damage to Japanese farms is caused by mammals and 40 percent by birds. Among the methods used to keep mammals like monkeys and boars away are chasing them off with dogs and hunting them down and eating them.

Damage caused to agricultural products by deer, wild boar and other wild animals has been rising year by year, reaching over $250 million in 2009, up $17 million from the year before. One of the biggest problems controlling these animals is that there are not enough hunters to hunt them and the hunters are getting older and older. Few young people are interested in hunting, plus many Japanese find the idea of killing animals abhorrent and don’t like guns.

Large-scale deer culls are being carried on Yakushima island and in other places because of the damage the deer cause to local flora.

Japanese agriculture suffered in 2010 from the theft on honeybees and the invasion of honeybee-killing mites that slipped through quarantines when bees were imported or smuggled into the country.

In the late 2000s a shortage of pollinating bees caused severe problems to Japanese agriculture. The problem was partly blamed on pesticides and ticks and a shortage of queen bees. Japan gets 90 percent of its queen bees from Australia and imports from there were stopped because of a disease there. In some places farmers pollinates their crops by hand because no bees are available. The lack of honey bees have blamed for in increase in deformed strawberries.

Small Farms in Japan

small Kyushu farming village
Most farms in Japan are small and family-owned and operated. Each family usually has some rice paddies called “ tabno”, or “ta”, and some dry vegetable fields called “hatake”. Farmer seldom specialize. The usually grow a variety of crops on their hatake.

In Japan, by law all farmland must be worked directly by the owners, and rice paddies, one reason farms are so small. According to government statistics, the average size of a farm in Japan was just 1.9 hectares, or 4.7 acres, in 2009, compared with 198 hectares (490 acres) in the United States and 3,400 hectares in Australia. Only 1.7 percent of farmers in Japan cultivate more that 12.5 acres of land. Reformers want to make it easier to own large farms

Small farms are much less efficient than large ones. Many of the rice paddies worked by Japanese farmers are small and unevenly-shaped and not suitable of mechanized agriculture.

Machinery can't work huge swaths of land in Japan like they can in the United States because Japanese farms are broken up and divided by terraces, ditches and embankments. Many parts of Japanese farm have to be worked by hand. Machinery, for example, can't catch the corners of plots so those areas have tended manually.

Agriculture has become urbanized in Japan. Many urban areas are peppered with rice paddies, small orchards and vegetable plots. Along the highways in many traditional agricultural areas, rice paddies are divided up by parking lots and factories. About five percent of Tokyo is classified as farmland, worked by 13,000 families.

Traditional Farms andEco-Farms in Japan

At Japanese eco-farms, fruit trees are planted to produce fruit and serve as wind breaks, catchment ponds store water and house fish farms and cows produce fertilizer, milk and meat. Marigolds are raised because they kill disease-causing pests, beans fix nitrogen in the soil and onions prevent mold. Ducks and chickens are allowed to run free and feed on weeds, insects and pests.

Agricultural areas are filled with ponds, These were dug by farmers, often hundreds of years ago, to trap natural spring water and send it downhill through sluices to downhill paddies. These days most rice farmers have electric pumps that bring water from underground reservoirs or nearby lakes and rivers and no longer rely on ponds.

An increasing number of farmers are cutting back on the use of herbicides and doing things like using tadpole shrimps to cull weed. Resembling horseshoe crabs, tadpole shrimp are about two to three centimeters in length and eat rice paddy grass and stir up paddy mud making it difficult for weeds to take root. The creatures are common in Kyushu and Tohoku and have been introduced to other places.

Farmer still routinely burn off her fields. In April 2010, three people died in a controlled burn off in Shizuoka Prefecture

The four annual doyo are 18 day periods prior to the official start of each of the four seasons. Although the doyo that occurs before the start of autumn is by far and away the best known, the one that precedes the start of traditional Japanese summer in early May is important. In the past, farmers would refrain from digging or turning the earth during a doyo period. There were, however, special dispensation days within the period, known as mabi, on which the restrictions against this sort of work were lifted. Also, doyo are considered to be times of unbalance, when weather can change suddenly. [Source: Kevin Short, Daily Yomiuri]

Fish were traditionally used to fertilize rice fields and today symbolize the hope of an abundant harvest. Human excrement was also widely used in the past. Improved fertilizers and mechanization tripled Japan's rice production between 1947 and 1967. Japan uses more agricultural chemical per hectare than any other country. Even though sales of agricultural chemicals dropped from 680,000 tons in 1980 to 390,000 tons in 1997.

High-Tech Agriculture in Japan

rice planting
The Japanese have taken a high tech approach to agriculture as they have with everything else. “They are ahead in biotechnology, they grow their rice with an amazing variety of mini-machines, including mechanical rice transplanters and harvesters, helicopter spraying, vinyl sheeting, concrete banked paddies and massive use of chemical fertilizer.”

The Japanese have produced a tomato plant that bears 10,000 tomatoes with the aid of a rotating-lens system that filters out harmful sun rays and focused beneficial rays where they are needed most. One tomato plant at the Tsukuba Science Expo in Japan produced 16,897 individual tomatoes.

The modernization of rice paddy agriculture includes consolidating small fields into large ones, replacing open canals with underground drainage pipes, installing pumps to pump in water and periodic draining of the paddies. These changes have made the paddies easier for farmers to work.

Japan has been producing the square watermelons since the 1980s. They are grown in tempered glass cases and sell for around $80 a piece.

Biofarms in which temperature, humidity and light are controlled by computers permits managed growth of plants and vegetables. In Mie Prefecture, farmers are using remote-controlled cameras and instruments that measure temperature, daylight hours and water content of the soil to determine whether trees need special assistance such watering, to help fight pests and diseases and choose the right time to pick crops.

Mebiol Inc. is marketing a hydrogel film in which seeds can be planed and seedlings can be grown with very little water. The material can retain large amounts of water. The film is only 0.06 millimeters thick and allows water and nutrients to permeate through it but blocks viruses and germs. The technology is particularly useful in desert environments.

Mito-based Pattruss Inc. has developed a pyramid-shaped plastic package that doubles the shelf life of lettuce and other agricultural products. Patented in 2007, the packaging is already widely used in southern Europe where people like a lot of fresh greens in their salads.

High-Tech Lettuce Factories and Robotic Grape-Picking Suits

The Yomiuri Shimbun reported: “Bio-factories produce agricultural products by artificially controlling temperature, water conditions, nutritional elements and other factors indoors. Though some might expect such produce to be bland compared with that cultivated in rice paddies and fields with rich natural environments, the facilities are highly productive and it is possible to control various qualities of the produce, including flavors such as sweetness. [Source: Yomiuri Shimbun, May 8, 2012]

“Products in such factories are not affected by environmental pollution, such as radioactive substances, and producers have little to worry about regarding harmful insects and plant diseases. The technology was first developed in Scandinavian countries, where the hours of sunlight are short for much of the year. But the market has been invigorated as well-funded enterprises have entered the business and worldwide demand for the technology has grown.

“In Japan, where the farming population is declining, the technology has been attracting increasing attention. Last year, a 2,000-square-meter vegetable factory was completed at Osaka Prefecture University in Sakai. It is the largest in Japan not to use sunlight. Prof. Haruhiko Murase, 64, proudly showed off his lettuce and said, "Please eat this lettuce without washing it, because the vegetable is much cleaner than tap water.”

“In the factory, the balance between blue light, which makes plants grow leaves and flowers, and red light, which is necessary for photosynthesis, is precisely controlled, even to the point of tuning the lights' wavelength. The vegetables can grow twice as quickly as those grown in natural fields, and harvests are possible year-round. Crop yield is more than 20 times the volume from outdoor fields with the same acreage.Currently, lettuce produced in the factory costs 40 percent to 100 percent more than lettuce grown in ordinary vegetable fields. But Murase said it is possible to reduce the prices of factory vegetables below those produced in ordinary fields by improving production efficiency.

“In Japan, there are increasing attempts to apply robotics and other technologies--fields where Japan has advantages--to agriculture. Prof. Shigeki Toyama, 59, of Tokyo University of Agriculture and Technology, and his team of researchers developed robotic Power Assist Suits, mechanical exoskeletons that can be worn to make agricultural work physically easier. The researchers anticipate the suit will be used by grape farmers as they often have to work in a semi-crouching position with their arms raised for many hours.The robot suits are priced at about 1.2 million yen each. The suits reportedly can reduce such farmers' leg fatigue by about 50 percent and arm fatigue by about 85 percent.

“A venture firm established by Yasuo Yoshikuni, 33, in California has developed a strain of E. coli bacteria that can decompose kelp sugar into ethanol, using genetic engineering technologies. Because seaweed does not have lignin, a hard woody element contained in ground plants, it is easier to chemically process and thus is suitable for use as a raw material at chemical plants. This technology is expected to widen the potential in agriculture, from food production to production of fuel and natural resources.

Vegetable Factories in Japan

A surprising amount of food in Japan is produced in factories rather farms. And this seems to be a trend towards the future. As of 2005, there were 16 artificial light-only facilities, that produced 730 tons of vegetables on 10,978 square meters, and natural-and-artificial-light facilities, that produced 900 tons of vegetables on 26,957 square meters. Problems such as bad weather and, diseases and pest are eliminated.

Lettuce is the most widely-grown factory vegetable and the price of production per plant is much higher farm-raised plants. The cost of rasing each lettuce head is ¥115, with ¥32 for electricity, ¥27 for labor, ¥25 for transportation, ¥15.4 fir equipment depreciation; ¥6.2 for facility maintenance; and ¥9.4 for others, The main selling point gor factory vegetables at this time is that no chemicals are used and amount of bacteria is less than a hundredth of that found on conventionally grown vegetables.

Vegetables in plant factories are grown in environments cut off from the outside atmosphere to keep out pests and bacteria. The temperature is regulated using air conditioners and heaters. Light intensity, temperature and fertilizers are regulated using computers. The vegetables are grown in trays that are stacked up like maps on a library bookshelf. Lights at positioned so they reach all the trays. Pumps circulate fertilizer-enriched water through the cultivation shelves.

The $2 million Tsuchiura Greenhouse lettuce factory built by JFE Life Corp in Ibaraki Prefecture, produces 1.6 million head of lettuce a year using natural and artificial light and hydroponic solution rather soil. Plants can be grown throughout the year with yields as high as as 28 crops a year. Workers don lab coats and receive an air shower before entering for sanitary reasons.

A Kyoto-based company called Spread Inc. produces three kinds of lettuce in its factory in Kameoka and sells them under the brand name Vegetis at the department store Daimaru. The four-story factory is located on a 5,000 square-meter site. The lettuce is cultivated on 14 three-tiered shelves using florescent lamps and a nutrient-filled solution. To reduce electricity costs the florescent lights are used only at night when heating costs are lower. The lettuce the factory produces costs about 20 percent to 30 percent more than conventional outdoor-grown lettuce. The company is also going to sell factory produced shuniku and mizuna — vegetables used in nabe, sukiyaki and shabu shabu — and tomatoes and cucumbers.

The Angel Farm in Fukui is considered a model “plant factory.” It produced eight kinds of vegetables, including komatsuna leaf, tomatoes, leaf lettuce, and arugula as well as roses and chrysanthemums and generates electricity with huge solar panels on its grounds. Fast-growing arugula can be harvested 22 days after pollinating and thus can be harvested almost 20 times a yea. The factory’s vegetables are s clean they can be eaten without washing and can be produced at any time of the year.

Japanese Farmers and Their Declining Numbers

About 5.2 percent of Japan's labor force is in agriculture (compared to 2.5 percent in the U.S.). Between 1960 and 2004, the number of farmers dropped from 12.2 million to 2.2 million. In 1960, about 30 percent of work force made a living through agriculture. In 1985, the figure was reduced to 8.4 percent.

The number of farmers has fallen by half since the 1980s. The number of Japanese working in agriculture and forestry fell to 2.6 million in 2010, a 22.4 percent decline from 2005 and down from 5.43 million in 1985, according to “The 2010 Census of Agriculture and Forestry”. An additional 1 million farmers is expected to quit farming in the next 10 years, The decline has been attribute to the aging of Japanese society and a drop in the number of full-time farmers, many of whom have leased their land to large-scale farmers or agricultural corporations.

Only 66,000 new people took up farming in 2009, most of them from farming families. New farmers who came from nonfarming sectors amounted to a mere 1,850.

Farmers have been hurt by imports and loss of subsidies. They have lots of expenses. Some have to have in house waste treatment facilities to prevent bad smells from bothering their neighbors. In recent years farmers have affected by the high costs for raw materials, seed and manure. Many farmers would like to sell their land. Land is often abandoned because it is no longer profitable to raise crops.

One farmer who manages one hectare of land (2.5 acres) told National Geographic: "I'd need 10 to 20 hectares nowadays to live well. My son and his wife help me out now. But this is where I was born, after all. Where you know, you love...It's my village, my home, my land. It came from my parents, so I have to protect it." [Source: Patrick Smith, National Geographic September 1994]

Farmers were not allowed to sell their land until the owner died, and then it was auctioned off to the highest bidder. Farmers have traditionally worked through cooperatives but due to embezzlement and other scandals many farmers no long have faith in them.

Part Time Japanese Farmers

Most farmers are part-timers with two or three acres who and another job. They work at factories and offices and are employed as divers. Most of their work is during the spring planting and autumn harvesting when the they help their neighbors and their neighbors and family members help them. In many cases women do the farm work while the men work at full time jobs. Some farmers just raise crops just to get tax breaks.

The part time farmer trend has been going on for some time. In the 1960s, farmers often left their families in the winter to work at higher paying jobs in the cities. In 1985, only 15 percent of the people employed in agriculture relied solely on farming for their income; the remaining 85 percent had at least one member of their household with a part-time job in another industry.

An increasing number of former go-getters, now in the 50s and 60s, are taking up farming after long careers in business.

Old Man Farmers in Japan

The average age of Japanese working in agriculture and forestry reached 65.8 in 2010, topping the 65-year mark for the first time according to the “The 2010 Census of Agriculture and Forestry”. Two thirds of Japan’s 3.12 million farmers are over 60. Fifty percent are over 65. Many are over 70. It is not unusual for a harvest to be done by two 70-year-old women and a 75-year-old man. "The reality is that many farmers are too old to tend to their own fields," Takanori Miyazaki, a journalist-turned-farmer who heads Food and Farm, a Tokyo-based nonprofit organization, told the Los Angeles Times.

Many elderly farmers are having a hard time finding people to take over their farms. Many have no family members that want succeed them or even help them.

Many farm laborers are elderly women who wear large floppy hats and wrap their heads in towels to keep warm in the winter and cool in the summer. The women wear their hats even when the take their lunchtime nap. During the tea harvesting season tea workers sometimes wake up at 3:00am and put in 20 hour days.

In small farming communities, young people are refusing to follow in the footsteps of their elders to become farmers. Instead they are moving to the cities. In a typical small town 50 percent fewer people make their living at farming than twenty years ago and the number of farmers below 60 has declined by 80 percent.

Many farms are tended by elderly couples who receive some assistance from the children who live in the cities, when the return home on holidays like Golden Week. "You just can't make a living on agriculture," one farmer told the New York Times. "Folks don't know about the future of farming, so every year the number of farmers declines. And there's no one to take over from the existing farmers."

Yuji Sakai, a representative at a Fukushima regional office of the Japan Agricultural Cooperative, called agriculture an aging trade, with many farm families in their last generation on the land. More than 70 percent of the 15,000 farmers his office represents are older than 65, and only 10 percent of those are with a son or daughter willing to take over the business. Further, a survey found that nearly one in three Japanese farmers are so disillusioned that they do not want their children to succeed them. With young people leaving the farms, Sakai laments the future of farming in Japan, which he predicts might one day resemble the U.S.: a domain of large-scale agricultural interests rather than small family farms."The biggest, most diverse farms will survive," he said, "but the smaller ones will probably not.”[Source: John M. Glionna, Los Angeles Times, January 4, 2012]

Subsidized Farmers in Japan

There is a tradition of protectionism in Japanese agriculture. The government set high prices for farmers by buying whatever they produce at heavily subsidized prices. Many farmers depend on price supports. Without them many would go out of business. The result is high prices for consumers.

Japanese farmers exert a great deal of political influence despite their relatively small numbers because they are well organized, they vote as bloc and they have close ties with influential members of the LDP political party. In many places farmers are dependent on part time work linked with public work projects conceived by the LDP to make ends meet.

See Separate Articles on Rice, Agricultural Cooperatives, Problems with Agricultural Policy and Agricultural Reforms

Book The Politics of Agriculture by Aurelia George Mulgan (Routledge, 2000)

Agriculture Cooperatives in Japan

Although they are not required to most Japanese farmers join cooperatives, These cooperatives are more effective politically — maintaining subsidies for farmers, keeping tariffs than keep out foreign competition, and blocking reforms — than they are advancing agricultural efficiency. The cooperatives are very powerful in rural communities, providing farmers with machinery and storage facilities that otherwise the couldn’t afford. They organize people to vote for candidates they choose and provide loans and insurance and run supermarkets and gas stations.

The Japan Agricultural Cooperative is the powerful lobby group that looks out for farmers. It has made reforms difficult as its policies are aimed at maintaining the status quo.

Japanese agriculture is dominated the Federation of Agricultural Cooperatives (Noyko), an organization that has traditionally helped farmers earn relatively handsome incomes by lobbying for them, supporting friendly politicians, keeping food prices high and telling farmers what to grow.

In the last few year there has been a kind of rebellion against Noyko. One Japanese farmer told U.S. News and World Report, "I feel that because we have been protected, we have gradually lost the ability to be independent and manage farming by ourselves."

Farmers also complain about the Noyko bureaucracy. Over the last 35 years the number of farmers has declined 70 percent while the number of Noyko employees has doubled to more than 300,000.

Farmers today can make more by growing crops that bring in the highest prices and buying fertilizer and insecticides from sources other than the Noyko cooperatives.

Farmers also complain about the cooperative system which has failed to keep prices high and often seems more interested in selling the farmers expensive machinery and fertilizer they don’t need. Efforts to set up new cooperatives, which is allowed by law, are thwarted by conservative bureaucrats that refuse to do the necessary paperwork.

See Separate Articles on Rice, Agricultural Cooperatives, Problems with Agricultural Policy and Agricultural Reforms

Agriculture, Bureaucracy and Quotas in Japan

The agricultural market has traditional been controlled by a burdensome, inefficient bureaucracy that kept prices high but tightly controlled what farmers could do. In 1987 producer rice prices were cut for the first time. In 1988 import quotas on beef and oranges was eased. It wasn't until November, 1995 that farmers were allowed to sell rice directly to their buyers.

A quota system for rice production was introduced in 1971 to stabilized rice prices by reducing output as rice consumption fell. Rice framers were given quotas to keep prices up and encourage them to keep growing rice, Even with price supports though the price of rice has fallen as result of shrinking demand related to the shrinking population and changing eating habits.

In recent years demand for rice has declined so dramatically that 40 percent of Japan’s rice paddies are subject to reductions in harvests while sales have been liberalized, subjecting farmers to market ups and downs and declining prcies. As this has happened farmers have withdrawn from the quota system, making their own determinations on how much rice to grow. The result: overproduction and even lower prices.

See Separate Articles on Rice, Agricultural Cooperatives, Problems with Agricultural Policy and Agricultural Reforms

Agriculture Reforms in Japan

Agricultural reforms are badly needed but have not taken place because there is lack of leadership, no one seems willing to make tough choices and powers that preserve the established system are too strong. Reforms of the inefficient land distribution, for eexample, have been blocked by special interest groups that fear upsetting the status qo. Masayoshi Hinma, a professor of agriculture at Tokyo University, told the New York Times, “Agriculture could resuscitate local economies. Without reform it will decline to death.”

Agricultural reforms include providing incentives for farmers to run large, efficient farms, reducing subsidies to weed out inefficient farmers, and offering incentives to attract young farmers.

Proposals to improve agricultural production include 1) making its easier for farmers to acquire land for large farm or lease land to make more productive farms; 2) encouraging farmers to voluntarily stop producing rice in return for cash payments. The latter calls for encouraging farmers to join the quota system in return for price supports when price fall. Critics of the plan say it may not achieve its desired goal of reducing production and the compensation to farms will be an expensive burden on taxpayers.

In April 2007, the Japanese government reduced subsidies for a number of crops. Farmers didn’t like the plan, preferring a plan proposed by the opposition Democratic party to pay income compensation

Barriers to agricultural reforms include traditional pork barrel subsidies to farmers, gridlock in the government that makes it difficult to pass any reforms, reluctance of farmer to sell their land to farmers, and the power of the agricultural cooperatives.

Many small farmers refuse or sell or lease their land to more serious framers because they hope to make more money from a land deal. Yoshihisa Godo of Meiji Gakuin University told the Daily Yomiuri, “Many of these small-scale farmer have been waiting a long time for an opportunity to sell their plots of land to development projects, such as central and local government public works projects for a profit, instead of trying to make more efficient agricultural use of the land.” Farmers can make up to 30 times more from selling their land to developers than they can selling it to farmers

The government is encouraging indoor cultivation by offering tax breaks and other incentives as means of providing a stable, safe supply of food

See Separate Articles on Rice, Agricultural Cooperatives, Problems with Agricultural Policy and Agricultural Reforms

Expensive Food and Foreign Competition in Japan

asparagus greenhouses
Rice sells for $2.50 a pound, several times what it sells for in the United States. The wholesale price for rice is seven times the world price. Apples sell for several dollars a piece and a perfect musk melon can sell for as much as $150. A box of cherries can go for as much as $240.

Fruits and vegetables are expensive because of inefficient distribution, lots of middlemen and the great care that goes into growing them. Some farmers are protected by 99 percent foreign tariffs on the vegetables they grow.

Rice farmers have been helped by the fact that Japanese prefer the taste of domestic rice to the taste of cheaper imported brands.

Japanese government has allowed more imported food to enter the country. Apples from Washington state and beef from Australia sell well. These days, Japan imports all kinds of stuff from China. When Japan imposed protective tarriffs on leeks and shiitake mushrooms from China, China retaliated by imposing tarriffs on Japanese industrial products.

Exported and Imported Food in Japan

Japan exported ¥370 billion worth of agricultural products in 2006. Of these 75 percent went to Asia, namely China, South Korea, Taiwan and Hong Kong, and 21 percent went to the United States.

Japan is hoping to boost its agricultural sector by exporting “luxury food” items such as quality apples, grapes, persimmons, pears and green tea. Significant amounts of green tea are exported to Europe. Fruits are exported to Taiwan but as a whole the export market for agriculture has not appeared primarily because not many people overseas are willing to pay the extra cost for quality items from Japan.

Japan is the world's largest net importer of agricultural products and food and the largest importer of United States crops. Germany is the second largest food importer. Japan imports twice as much food as the Germans.

Japan relies on imports for 60 percent of its food on a caloric basis. About 90 percent of the wheat consumed in Japan comes from Australia, Canada and the United States. Japan imports 90 percent of its wheat, 85 percent of its soybeans and 67 percent of its sugar. It gets 75 percent of its soybeans from the United States and produces its own sugar in Okinawa. Rice is the only grain in which Japan is able to meet 100 percent of its needs. Although Japan depends heavily on foreign suppliers for most food, up to 80 percent of all vegetables are locally grown.

Japan gets 33 percent of its fresh vegetables from China, 20.7 percent from the United States, 8.8 percent from South Korea, 9.6 percent from New Zealand and 26.9 percent from other.

World Food Markets and Agricultural Investments in Japan

Japan ranks 128th out of 175 nations in grain self sufficiency and is the least self-sufficient in terms of food production of all the world’s industrialized countries. There are worries that it could suffer as competition for resources and food increases.

Japan — used to getting its way and getting the best of imports — is losing its clout in world food markets. It is facing increased competition, especially from China, and is being outbid by its rivals. The best beef, fruit, soybeans, flour and cooking oil use to end up in Japan. But not necessarily anymore. This is even the case with the best sushi tuna which is often ending up in New York, Shanghai and even Moscow rather than in Tokyo.

Japanese companies are investing Mitsui, Japan’s second largest trading company, bought a 25 percent stake in Multigrain AG, a Sao-Paulo-based grain handlers, ro secure increased supplies of soybeans’specifically non GM soybeans which Japanese consumers prefer,

Image Sources: Ray Kinnane, JNTO, Nicolas Delerue, Sapporo City

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

Last updated August 2012

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