Japan Table of Contents

Agriculture, forestry, and fishing dominated the Japanese economy through the 1940s, but thereafter declined in relative importance. In the late nineteenth century, these sectors had accounted for more than 80 percent of employment. Employment in agriculture declined in the prewar period, but the sector was still the largest employer (about 50 percent of the work force) by the end of World War II. It further declined to 23.5 percent in 1965, 11.9 percent in 1977, and to 7.2 percent in 1988. The importance of agriculture in the national economy later continued its rapid decline, with the share of net agricultural production in GNP finally reduced between 1975 and 1989 from 4.1 to 3 percent. In the late 1980s, 85.5 percent of Japan's farmers were also engaged in occupations outside of farming, and most of these part-time farmers earned most of their income from nonfarming activities.

Japan's economic boom that began in the 1950s left farmers far behind in both income and agricultural technology. Farmers were determined to close this income gap as quickly as possible. They were attracted to the government's food control policy under which high rice prices were guaranteed and farmers were encouraged to increase the output of any crops of their own choice. Farmers became mass producers of rice, even turning their own vegetable gardens into rice fields. Their output swelled to over 14 million tons in the late 1960s, a direct result of greater cultivated acreage and increased yield per unit area, owing to improved cultivation techniques.

Three types of farm households developed: those engaging exclusively in agriculture (14.5 percent of the 4.2 million farm households in 1988, down from 21.5 percent in 1965); those deriving more than half their income from the farm (14.2 percent, down from 36.7 percent in 1965); and those mainly engaged in jobs other than farming (71.3 percent, up from 41.8 percent in 1965). As more and more farm families turned to nonfarming activities, the farm population declined (down from 4.9 million in 1975 to 4.8 million in 1988). The rate of decrease slowed in the late 1970s and 1980s, but the average age of farmers rose to fifty-one years by 1980, twelve years older than the average industrial employee.

The most striking feature of Japanese agriculture is the shortage of farmland. The 4.9 million hectares under cultivation constituted just 13.2 percent of the total land area in 1988. However, the land is intensively cultivated. Rice paddies occupy most of the countryside, whether on the alluvial plains, the terraced slopes, or the swampland and coastal bays. Nonrice farmland share the terraces and lower slopes and are planted with wheat and barley in the autumn and with sweet potatoes, vegetables, and dry rice in the summer. Intercropping is common: such crops are alternated with beans and peas.

Japanese agriculture has been characterized as a "sick" sector because it must contend with a variety of constraints, such as the rapidly diminishing availability of arable land and falling agricultural incomes. Nevertheless, the Japanese manage to keep production at high levels. Agriculture is maintained through the use of technically advanced fertilizers and farm machinery and through a vast array of price supports. The nation's many agricultural cooperatives are in charge of purchasing grain according to prices indexed to the average wage rates in the nonagricultural sector. As a result, rice, wheat, and barley prices follow productivity trends in industry rather than in agriculture. This type of support system, enacted in 1960 along with the Basic Agricultural Law, resulted in large government rice stockpiles and high agricultural prices. Excessive rice production had an adverse effect on other crop production. Japan's self-sufficiency ratio for grains other than rice fell below 10 percent in the 1970s but rose to 14 percent in the mid- to late 1980s. The problem of surplus rice was further aggravated by extensive changes in the diets of many Japanese in the 1970s and 1980s. Even a major rice crop failure did not reduce the accumulated stocks by more than 25 percent of the reserve. In 1990 Japan was 67 percent selfsufficient in agricultural products but only provided about 30 percent of its cereals and fodder needs.

Livestock raising is a minor activity. Demand for beef rose in the 1980s, and farmers often shifted from dairy farming to production of high-quality (and high-cost) beef. Throughout the 1980s, domestic beef production met over 60 percent of demand. In 1991, as a result of heavy pressure from the United States, Japan ended import quotas on beef as well as citrus fruit. Milk cows are numerous in Hokkaido, where 25 percent of farmers ran dairies, but milk cows are also raised in Iwate, in Tohoku, and near Tokyo and Kobe. Beef cattle are mostly concentrated in western Honshu, and on Kyushu. Hogs, the oldest domesticated animals raised for food, are found everywhere. Pork is the most popular meat.

The nation's forest resources, although abundant, have not been well developed to sustain a large lumber industry. Of the 24.5 million hectares of forests, 19.8 million are classified as active forests. Most often forestry is a part-time activity for farmers or small companies. About a third of all forests are owned by the government. Production is highest in Hokkaido and in Aomori, Iwate, Akita, Fukushima, Gifu, Miyazaki, and Kagoshima prefectures. Nearly 33.5 million cubic meters of roundwood were produced in 1986, of which 98 percent was destined for industrial uses.

Japan ranked second in the world behind China in tonnage of fish caught--11.9 million tons in 1989, down slightly from 11.1 million tons in 1980. After the 1973 energy crisis, deep-sea fishing in Japan declined, with the annual catch in the 1980s averaging 2 million tons. Offshore fisheries accounted for an average of 50 percent of the nation's total fish catches in the late 1980s although they experienced repeated ups and downs during that period. Coastal fisheries had smaller catches than northern sea fisheries in 1986 and 1987. As a whole, Japan's fish catches registered a slower growth in the late 1980s. By contrast, Japan's import of marine products increased greatly in the 1980s, and was nearly 2 million tons in 1989. Japan also introduced the "culture and breed" fishing system, or sea farming. In this system, artificial insemination and hatching techniques are used to breed fish and shellfish, which are then released into rivers or seas. These fish and shellfish are caught after they grow bigger. Salmon is raised this way.

Japan is also one of the world's few whaling nations. As a member of the International Whaling Commission, the government pledged that its fleets would restrict their catch to international quotas, but it attracted international opprobrium for its failure to sign an agreement placing a moratorium on catching sperm whales. Japan has more than 2,000 fishing ports, including Nagasaki, in southwest Kyushu; Otaru, Kushiro, and Abashiri in Hokkaido; and Yaezu and Misaki on the east coast of Honshu.

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Source: U.S. Library of Congress