For a country that identifies strongly as being historically agricultural people, the landscape of Japan's agricultural sector is bleak, and has been for some time. Simply put, the workforce is rapidly aging and there aren't nearly enough successors. The price of rice has gone down, and structural reform is unlikely with the powerful coop organization Nokyo (農協) and whatever political party is in power. The Tokyo Foundation offers statistics in a report, ominously but aptly titled ‘The Perilous Decline of Japanese Agriculture‘. It starts, of course, with everyone's favorite nogyo (農業 / agriculture) statistic – ‘Japan's food self-sufficiency ratio has dropped below 40%’.
However, the circumstances surrounding agriculture are changing. Farming is undergoing a makeover for better or worse, as covered by Scilla Alecci in ‘Japan: Agriculture the latest trend among celebrities‘. This follow-up post highlights some aspects of that change in an attempt to explore its scope.
Farming and Food Safety
Growing concern for food safety is one of the factors that have contributed to this change in the way of thinking. The blog ‘What Japan Thinks’ reported last year that ‘food safety worries five in six Japanese‘:
Q2: Which of the following do you strive to do regarding your eating habits ? (Sample size=1,089, multiple answer)
- Buy Japanese products as much as possible 69%
- Pay attention to the date of manufacture, use-by date, best before date, etc 66%
- Buy products with as few additives as possible 51%
- Limit use of prepared foods 25%
- Limit eating out 16%
- Other 3%
- Nothing in particular 6%
Many consumers don't mind paying extra to ensure that their food is ‘safe’, especially in the wake of an incident in 2008 when dozens were poisoned by frozen dumplings imported from China. In a typical example, Tamagomama lists some reminders in a blog post advising expectant mothers:
Farming and Unemployment
With the economy in steep decline, the government is looking to connect increased agricultural employment as one answer to rising unemployment, especially for temp workers with cancelled contracts.
Nina Fallenbaum reported on her participation in a pilot agriculture-experience program:
Here’s the very simple idea: send 18 to 40-year-old city slickers to rural communities for a free five-day trip to learn farming, meet local people, and perhaps be tempted to adopt that way of life for themselves. Administrated by an environmental nonprofit group, a grant from the Japanese Ministry of Agriculture paid our food, bullet train fare, lodging — everything (and I’m not even a citizen!). Seems extravagant, but compared to the amount of money spent on recent bank bailouts it’s a very cheap form of stimulus — and benefits rural areas, young people, and the agricultural sector simultaneously.
Farming and the Internet
Here are some cases of people harnessing the power of the Internet.
Yasai8313, who produces rare vegetables, uses the Internet to
cultivate sales channels [ja]. Tomato farmer Shinichi Soga succeeded in connecting the popularity of his blog directly to sales, as covered by the Japan Times in ‘Younger farmers blogging their way to success‘. Seebit, a company that produces video content for the Web, runs a website that sells rice. They offer footage from an on-site Web camera so that people can see how the rice is growing. There's a social networking site for all people related to nogyo, Boku-nou (Our Agriculture), which also enables people to buy and sell farming equipment.
Online learning is available as well. Toshihide Muraoka introduced one such example on his blog:
Farming and Other Industries
Companies and organizations in industries unrelated to farming are re-thinking their relationship with agriculture. In one example, marketer and blogger happy-kernel commented on the news that the Kakegawa City Amateur Sports Association in Shizuoka Prefecture is starting an agricultural farm business.
Most Japanese farms are small and family-oriented, and the image of ojiichan and obaachan (grandpa and grandma) tending to their plot of land day in and day out, a typical setting in Japanese folklore, isn't that far from present reality. What will happen next? Where these trends will lead to is yet to be seen, but it's all part of one big and developing wave.