Japanese Food Self-Sufficiency

by Yuku Horibe

One of the most serious social issues in Japan is declining self-sufficiency. Especially, the rate of food production has sharply decreased since 1965. It is remarkable that Japanese food sufficiency is the lowest among the developed countries, including the U.S, France, Germany and Britain. Therefore, Japan imports 60 percent of its food from other countries. The worst production rate is grain and therefore Japan imports large amounts. These alarming facts make it clear that self-sufficiency is a serious problem in Japan. Unfortunately, it seems difficult to improve this situation. The main reasons for low food self sufficiency are changes in the diet, political problems and the decreasing number of farms.   (The Ministry of Agriculture)

The first main reason for this problem is the changes in the diet. Japanese often eat rice as a staple food in the past, but after World WarⅡ, people started to eat live stock much more than rice. According to the Ministry of Agriculture, “[t]he reason people started to eat livestock is related to American intervention in Japan.” To explain the issues in detail, Japan had been suffering from a food shortage after World WarⅡ and U.S supported by importing their crops for the purpose of making Japan familiar with a foreign diet.  Imported foods included bread, meat, milk, eggs and so on. Japanese preferred to have these foods daily and finally started to need raw materials to create these foods. For example, we need wheat to make bread, and also corn is necessary for breeding cows. However Japanese land is not suitable for growing wheat and grain, therefore Japan started to import these raw materials. The more Japan imported their food and raw materials, the more U.S. made a profit. This is why Japan depends on imports.  (The Ministry of Agriculture)

The second main reason for this problem is politics. Yamashita Jin, who is a member of the Tokyo foundation, said “[t]he main point of agricultural law established in 1961 was different from actual policy. This might cause the decrease in the number of farmers and lower food sufficiency.” To explain the problem in detail, the main point of the law was to get rid of earning differentials between farmers. Since the law was established, farmer’s income became lower than a worker’s income. To raise their income, they had to be released from the expense of farming. .However, the scheme that was carried out was to lower the price of the rice and other crops, because of food shortages caused by war. After World WarⅡ, People had difficulty getting enough food, therefore the government decided to set the price of crops lower. The government wanted to distribute a limited amount of foods to the people evenly. As a result, farmers couldn’t lower the cost of products and their income got much lower. The number of farmers diminished and this lowered Japanese sufficiency. I think the reason this condition got worse was because the government didn’t care about farmer’s low income. It is important to make society affluent, but they should have been concerned for both farmer’s and consumer’s situation. For example, the government can give money to farmer if their profits are not enough to live on. (The Tokyo Foundation)

The third reason for this problem is the decreasing number of farms. According to the Ministry of Agriculture “Japanese cultivated acreage has been decreasing since 1961, the year reached peak as 608 hectare. This is parallel to the decreasing the number of farmers. As a result, the fall in production was caused.”  I think the reason why people left farm working, because they wanted stability. Crops are easily damaged by the weather of course, and their income depends on amount of production. I think working for industry was a better situation for them. (The Tokyo Foundation)

There are several reasons for low Japanese self-sufficiency. Alteration of the diet from Japanese style to European style, political problems, including American intervention in Japan and decreasing number of farms are the main three reasons. Currently, Japan depends on food from other countries, but this might be serious problem if foreign countries have a food crisis. This issue needs to be solved politically rather than at a popular level, but there are still a few things we can do. For example, we can try to buy domestic products to help farmer’s profits or we can cultivate crops by ourselves. These are precise measures to work out, but it is important for consumers to do all they can.

Yuku Horibe is a first-year student in the Dept. of British and American Cultural Studies.