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Farmers - last of the modern-day samurai

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As Japan entered the Meiji era, it knew it had to modernize or face dangers of possible colonial invasion.

Today, Japan also knows that it needs to change to adapt to an overwhelmingly competitive global market or sink. Any Japanese businessman will tell you, doing business abroad is tougher than ever.

Japanese products initially were easy to spread around the world because they were cool, catchy and cheap. Later, they became known for their high quality.

Today, when it comes to cars, China has the market on cheap and affordable. Japan’s been beaten on TVs by Samsung, and with the iPhone, people aren’t even exclusively plugged in to their Sony and Panasonics anymore. Many larger Japanese electronics companies have even had to merge with foreign or other Japanese ones to survive.

To make things worse, when it comes to negotiations, Japanese businessmen simply don’t speak the language – literally. Whereas many of Japan’s Asian counterparts are educated in programs that include courses taught entirely in English, try calling a Japanese company and finding English-speaking personnel. Even if you do, you might still have to switch to Japanese after your request is followed by an extremely awkward silence, then “once more again please?” at the other end of the line.

Some time ago, I was hired to teach business English courses at a school that had clients from almost every imaginable major corporation in Japan. I got quite a few students who were taking the job interview course, but weren’t looking for jobs at the time. They feared that their company was downsizing and that they’d be next to go. Many were looking to get jobs not at Japanese companies, but subsidiaries of foreign firms located in Japan.

It was strange, because when I asked most of them which style of management they preferred, Japanese or Western, they overwhelmingly chose Japanese with its all-encompassing cradle to grave corporate welfare system. But when I asked them which type of company they foresaw themselves having a future with, almost all chose foreign global companies.

Having experienced this gloomy atmosphere, it doesn’t take a degree in business or economics from Keio or Waseda (as many of my students had) to realize that free trade is just around the bend.

Still – there are the farmers. You have to feel bad for them.

It's a shrinking, aging, dying industry that produces some of the best and highest quality product in the world. But today, there are barely only 3 million farming families left in Japan. In fact, 60% of all farmers hold other part-time jobs. They’re likely to be over 65 as well as have children, even grandchildren who’ve settled down in the city.

But a tribute to the Japanese farmer: Their product is not cheap, but I stand by my word, it's the best and a product of very hard work.

I personally go to supermarkets and use as much kanji power as I have to find products grown in the right prefectures at the right time. Today I bought a whole bunch of Nagoya-grown Shinano Gold apples. Hours later they were gone ... ate them all. No regrets. Tochigi and Fukuoka-grown Amaou strawberries are another example. They’re big, they’re sweet, they’re juicy. Six of them will set you back almost 700 yen.

My parents who come to Japan a couple times a year are different. My father’s a bargain hunter. I do my shopping at Belc. He goes to Costco. God forbid I should spend 3,000 yen on fruit and vegetables after he’s stuffed the freezer with bags of cheap frozen stuff for a fraction of the price. I would hear about it forever, and there is no lecturing him about food quality.

Yet, in some ways he’s right. Times are bad and wallets are tight. I’m noticing more and more security cameras at stores. I was in Seiyu today and saw two police officers measuring shelves and taking pictures. The shelves looked full, but evidently it was a crime scene. Apparently, someone had hit the sushi deli, made off with a few cans of tuna and grabbed some Oolong tea as well.

In recent years, up to almost 50,000 senior citizens per year, four times as many as in the 1990s, have been arrested in Japan for crimes other than traffic offenses. The crimes (which also include murder, embezzlement and extortion) are often attributed to “the harsh economy,” “isolation from the family” and a growing gap between the rich and poor.

If the economy is so bad that it's driving cute old senbei-eating "obasan" to stab people to death, and middle-aged "ojisan" to throw bikes from overhead rail passes on to train tracks, imagine how tight the wallets of people ranging from the underemployed, unemployed to tightly budgeted pensioners are.

As this happens, one thing is clear. Even if Japanese agriculture produces some of the best product in the world, an increasing number of people can’t afford it. The farmers, aging themselves, know this, and probably know that a generation raised on Poki and Cup Noodle simply aren’t going to go for the “quality fresh” pitch.

The reality is, the industry has been rapidly shrinking for years. Farming is labor-intensive work that people don’t want to do. Building shopping malls and housing developments will get you way more money than harvesting rice from land.

In the end, Japan faces a dilemma: clean up the economy, but throw farmers by the wayside while having almost no food or energy self-sustenance, or have supermarkets full of the best produce in the world, but few customers who can afford it.

Farming may be turning from an industry to an art, and the farmers who harvest the field may very well be Japan’s last samurai. No doubt, they’ll put up a good fight, but one wonders if their fate has already been decided?

© Japan Today

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It was strange, because when I asked most of them which style of management they preferred, Japanese or Western, they overwhelmingly chose Japanese with its all encompassing cradle to grave corporate welfare system. Cradle to grave? I thought these guys were at these classes because they feared cutbacks and losing their job? That certainly isn't cradle to grave.

Still – there are the farmers. You have to feel bad for them. No we don't. They get huge chunks of our tax money and rob us blind crazy prices for food that is questionable in quality. They have haven't modernized or adapted to deal with the global market. Why bother when the government will prop them up?

it’s the best and a product of very hard work. It isn't the best. We could go to Europe and easily get the same quality - and organic - for the prices we pay here.

Is this article about farming or about the crime?

4 ( +7 / -3 )

Tmarie, once you're in a Japanese company, they provide everything for you, from dorms when you start, sports clubs and activities, sometimes types of child and family care, your peers who you will even reunite with after you die and will all come to your funeral. Getting laid off can be like getting cut off from your own family, it's not just changing jobs.

Japanese produce is famous for its high quality. Their's a perfectionist aesthetic that drives up cost, but is very Japanese. As for the government propping it up, you have rural towns that are economically depended on it and a low food subsidy problem. The choice is to boost the industry, or deal with high rural unemployment. There are cultural issues too -- see below.

Ben, does it really need to be spelled out?

Japan was an agrarian society. Now the agricultural sector is almost insignificant, meaning it's in danger of being thrown by the wayside so the economy as a whole can survive.

Decendents of the samurai still promote samurai class arts, but they no longer exist as a class and aren't powerful or economy important. The farmers, today no longer drive Japanese society and Japan is in a panic which is resulting in layoffs and alleged crime. If you know the issue, the farmers are putting up a huge fight. The author, but are in danger of being thrown by the wayside. The author clearly sums up the situation, explains why the odds are against them, but why he respects and sympathizes with them. If you understood Japanese history and the background of this issue, little need to be summed up: all it does is summarize things people know about, but from an emotional perspective capturing the panic of the businessmen, the fears of the public (including feeling unsafe and attributing it to the economy), and the dilemma of many farmers who have a strong union and are definitely a force to be reckoned with.

I think this article is a respectful way of saying that the farmers are as culturally significant as the samurai, but becoming as socially irrelevant. The Samurai and farmers were once the backbone of J-society. Think about it... One is gone, the other, in the author's opinion is going to be gone soon. I find that disturbing, though the article fails to mention how Japanese farmers are trying to reverse the trend.

Respectfully Ben, spend less time criticizing pieces and read up on the issues so people don't have to spell things out for you and you can offer opinions ON THE TOPIC.

-5 ( +3 / -8 )

Tmarie, once you're in a Japanese company, they provide everything for you, from dorms when you start, sports clubs and activities, sometimes types of child and family care, your peers who you will even reunite with after you die and will all come to your funeral. Getting laid off can be like getting cut off from your own family, it's not just changing jobs. You make it too easy.

LARGE Japanese companies offer dorms, not all companies. LARGE Japanese companies offer some discounts at local sport's clubs, may have a gym but certainly not all. Activities? You mean the ones you HAVE to go to on the weekends and not get paid for it? Child care? Hahahaha! That was good. Thanks for the laugh. A few LARGE companies offer childcare - if both parents are working and are actually pretty competitive to get a place in. Family care? Indeed. By offering incentives to have a wife that stays home and doesn't use that so called child care. Companies that will transfer husband's across the country or around the world with little thought to the wife (and her [possible job) and kids. I have no idea what you are trying to say in the next point. Getting laid off and comparing it to be cut off from your family is partly based on how much control Japanese companies have on their employees. You just mentioned housing, child care, sport's clubs.... Cut that off from anyone and see how they react. Plenty of foreign companies offer all of the above and more - time off, better childcare options, bonuses that aren't actually your salary, relocation packages for the family and wife...

Japanese produce is famous for its high quality. Their's a perfectionist aesthetic that drives up cost, but is very Japanese. As for the government propping it up, you have rural towns that are economically depended on it and a low food subsidy problem. The choice is to boost the industry, or deal with high rural unemployment. There are cultural issues too -- see below. Indeed it is. But do you think your average family in Japan can afford the high quality food? Go to the grocery store and look at the price differences between the best quality and the lowest price - which is still outrageous. The idea that what normal people eat in this country is any better quality than what you get in any other western country is absurd. Double the price doesn't mean double the quality. You have rural towns that haven't modernized their way of producing food and sadly, we the tax payers, prop them up so they don't have to. Did you read the average age of farmers? Technically, they're supposed to be retired so wouldn't count towards unemployment. Perhaps if they modernized, stepped aside and made profit, more young people would be interested in farming in this country?

Cultural issue? When is that going to stop being an excuse for poor behaviour or bad business practises? Farmers in ANY country were historically important. However, times change and people move on. Shame Japan hasn't come to gripes with that. The fact that these so called 'samurai" can't produce enough food for Japan to live off and leech fro the tax payers is pathetic.

If you understood Japanese history and the background of this issue Wow. Look at how patronizing that is. Perhaps YOU could look at the farmers in England and make some comparisons as not all the difference in terms of history and background issues. Only difference is that English farmers saw what was happening, modernized and are word renowned for their organic produce and quality. Shame Japanese farmers haven't come to terms with it all. If Japan joins TPP they're either going to learn the hard way or die out.

4 ( +5 / -1 )

But do you think your average family in Japan can afford the high quality food? Go to the grocery store and look at the price differences between the best quality and the lowest price - which is still outrageous. Exactly, and the article is arguing that the farmers are on their way out because of this. The economy is bad. High quality is important in Japan... If foreign imports can beat them to the punch (and as things stand they can) they're in big trouble. During the time of the bubble, nothing less than the best was acceptable for most people, even if it was outrageously priced.

Perhaps YOU could look at the farmers in England and make some comparisons as not all the difference in terms of history and background issues. Only difference is that English farmers saw what was happening, modernized and are word renowned for their organic produce and quality This is true. Japanese farmers are going to have to adapt, and some are. (There are currently a number of industrial conferences discussing ways of modernizing and becoming more competitive.)

On the other hand, when pricing in cost of land and cost of labor can Japanese farmers compete with foreign imports. Keep in mind that England is very close to a whole continent of wealthy neighbors. Over the years, what percent of UK agriculture has been exported? Today, I think only 2% of Japanese agriculture is exported... the rest is domestically consumed. (Please don't quote me on this!)

The point of this article is that farmers are more so artisans than industrialists, hence they are in danger of becoming irrelevant. I would think you'd agree with that?

As for them not being able to produce enough food... it also relates to a point in the article. The reason people stopped farming was to move to urban business centers and get jobs that paid better and were less labor intensive. -- I hope you're not old enough to remember when you'd see the old hunched back ladies working the fields!-- Would you want your child to live such a life? -- So the farmers were happy for their children to move to Tokyo and become salarymen became salarymen and only a small handful remained behind... But now, the Japanese economy is shrinking. MORE FARMERS and LESS businessmen are needed; however, in a society used to luxury and affluence people simply don't want to do this kind of work. It is a huge dilema for the farmers.

That said, it is not true that farmers aren't modernizing; however, you correctly point out we're dealing with an aging population, not a young forward looking generation. As to modernization, some examples of initiatives.

Soybean Trust: http://daizubatake.sakura.ne.jp/about/about.html

Suiden Trust http://suiden-trust.blogspot.com/

Japan Organic Agriculture Association: http://www.joaa.net/

0 ( +1 / -1 )

(Sorry, Tmarie, bold did not work on above post.)

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

Plenty of hunched back old ladies farming where i livem in fact i see daily, many in their seventies and eighties. People need to see rural Japan, it is totally diffferent. The famers are dying off , won't be many left in a couple of decades. A lot of the problem is JA.

3 ( +4 / -1 )

The hunchbacks are all over the country regardless of the job they did when working - and still working. You can see them in all large cities! You don't have to turn into a hunchback if you use modern equipment and science when it comes to farming. Thing is, many are too old to invest or don't see the point - again, why bother is the government looks after them?

Japan finally has an organic association? News to me. Perhaps they should get on people using "organic" as the new buzz word for cafes and the like. No idea how many I have been to that clearly don't serve/sell organic food. My understanding is that there was always a group but that they have no certification power. This still true?

JA is indeed a huge problem. The whole farming industry here needs to be re-hauled and ASAP! If they would actually modernize things, I think the image would change. Personally, I would pay an arm and a leg to get proper organic food that was grown as far away from Fukushima as possible. I don't think I am the only one either - plenty of money to be made with that! That or allow TPP in and get in some foreign organic!

And no worries, bolding is hit and miss on this site for some reason.

1 ( +3 / -2 )

I lived in a rural area in Japan and saw many farmers with terrible arthritis and spinal problems. Tmarie - they can't afford to buy modern equipment even if they wanted to. From what I've seen, many have such tiny plots of land that significant mechanisation would not be cost effective. They can't afford to buy more land either, and merging plots in many cases would be difficult or impossible. You could try to develop farming into large scale production as in other countries and then you will displace a lot of country families - where will they go and what will they do? It's not a simple problem.

-1 ( +1 / -2 )

and the farmers who harvest the field may very well be Japan’s last samurai.

Sorry, but this comparison is foolish, IMO. Respectfully, samurai were brave men of honor and self-respect and personal responsibility. There is nothing honorable in not farming land because a perverted farm policy pushed into effect by the farm lobby makes it more attractive to do so. Nor is their real self-respect or personal responsibility in hiding behind 700% tariffs, sky-high subsidies and other measures to protect yourself from competition. Samurai never ran from a fight, why are Japanese farmers? Especially if their product is so superior, as the author claims. Or do they realize that the world is not clamoring for $1.50 apples?

1 ( +2 / -1 )

Herefornow,

samurai were brave men of honor and self-respect and personal responsibility.>>Actually, in the final days, the Samurai were practically useless. Japan hadn't been to war for hundreds of years... They were known to run up huge debts... and peasants paid huge land taxes to them, and Japan had to develop a modern military to replace them (but that's besides the point.)

Japan's farmers work their butts off... curious if anyone belittling them has actually worked or lived on a farm for even a day.

When I go shopping at local supermarkets I don't have to spend all my time digging through products with fingernail indentations in them because people know they have to check them out to make sure they're not rotten in the middle.

The fact is the farmers have spoiled the Japanese... not the other way around. Japan is still a very wealthy country, even though times are relatively tough now. I don't see what's wrong with the government protecting its citizens from having cheap goods dumped on them.

Here's the catch... I don't hear Japanese people demanding in mass that cheap agricultural goods be allowed into this country... Do you really think the West has a right to IMPOSE who Japan has to do business with if its citizens aren't demanding such products. Although trade liberalization is the way to go, I sometimes see degrees of western arrogance in posts that condemn Japan from protecting its domestic market as if the hard working farmers are spoiled bums.

As for the idea that JA is "bad" and "corrupt", I hear this repeated over and over again, but would like to see specific proof of this beyond resentment that there's a union that protects its hard working members. The issue that's being debated is TRQ (the tariff rates) -- The issue is creating numbers that allow balance between allowing a domestic market to EXIST, and allowing countries to be able to do business with Japan, but the WTO and other groups can't act as some GANGSTER organization saying "You better do business with us buddy, or else!"

-2 ( +1 / -3 )

Actually, in the final days, the Samurai were practically useless.

johnnygogogo -- thank you for the information. In that case, then I do agree with the author, and Japan's farmers are, in effect, the last samurai -- "practically useless" and "running up huge debts". Although I hardly think that was the context in which the author meant his comparison. And, as for them "working their butts off", so what? That is the knee-jerk refrain heard to cover up Japan's biggest problem -- mistaking effort for results. If Japan, and its farmers were smart, and actually joined the 21st century, like SK's have done, they could probably work less hard, be more productive, make more money, and cost the tax-payers/consumers less. In a global economy, productivity, efficiency and results are paramount, not perceived amount of effort. And Japanese farmers are, unfortunately, the poster boys for all of Japan's domestic economy on the opposite.

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Those farmers who plots big enough could easily get bank loans for equipment. I am not saying the life of a farmer is easy - I am saying that haven't modernized. Why? Because they don't "need" to with the handouts and the protection they get from the government.

Where would they go? Most are past retirement age so should be drawing a pension. Sell the land, group it together under one farmer or a few and let them develop decent farms than produce more food using new equipment and skills. Like it or not, there are large corporations out there that would be interested in large plots of land to develop. Thing is, everyone would cry about the poor farmers and the mass production of it. Then again, if Japan can't feed itself, why not? I have no problems with it if things are regulated. Thing is JA has pretty crappy regs - again, I go back to the issue of organic in this country. Old ma and pa farmers claim their food is "organic" but clearly it isn't. For some here, they think organic means grown on a small farm with no regards to chemicals. If anything the old ma and pa are using heavy chemicals that are old and frightening!

Johnny, I spend my time pick up things and checking them - the quality isn't any different than home! More than a few times I have had things rotten in the middle and most often than not, things are void of taste. I also spend a hell of a lot of time right now looking at food and labeling as I am trying not to touch anything from Fukushima. Thing is, JA, the government... isn't being helpful by not banning things from the area. JA and the government need to do something about labeling where the produce is from. So in terms of picking things up and checking them, time is being spent - well spent - on that.

I have heard numerous locals complain about the price of fruit and veg here. Many are shocked if/when they go abroad and see the prices and the vast amounts of options. Are they for mass producing? I doubt it has ever crossed their minds because it doesn't get discussed here. Most here haven't a clue how much support the farmers get fro the government from their taxes so they aren't exactly well informed. When I tell them they are shocked - and outraged! Why? They look at the price of their food!

Japan wouldn't need TPP or so many imports if the farmers worked the land well. No country can be self sufficient this days with all the wants and desires from the public but Japan could be doing a much, much better job at it. I give you the example of the rip off okinawa pineapple - 1500 for one, not available in the rest of the country, small, not all that tasty. Well protected by those who farm them. The same could be said for the Fukushima peaches (not that I would touch them), the strawberries... Go any place "famous" for a certain veg and fruit and look at the prices, compare them to those you find in the grocery store... RIP OFF!! It needs to stop.

0 ( +2 / -2 )

To say that farmers are robbing us blind is not exactly accurate. It's actually quite off the mark. The reason that produce is so expensive here in Japan is because of the middleman. Many farmers know this, and as much as possible, they sell their produce in their roadside stands. Though they are limited in how much they can sell that way. The middlemen force the farmers to buy chemicals every year and new machinery every few years. This extra cost is passed to us by the middleman. Many farmers have tried to break from this system but have been met with total blocks on getting their safer produce to market at cheaper prices than the middleman wants to charge us.

There are coops and small farmers markets but they are localized and unless you live their or pass through regularly, it is not economical to go and purchase from these reasonably priced venues. There does need to be a huge change in the marketing and distribution of produce here in Japan or there will be a lot of families that simply will not be able to provide a proper meal in the not so distant future.

-3 ( +1 / -4 )

You can blame the middle man but why not go take a look at the prices of the side road veggies stands. They aren't cheap either - not like the ones back home. The co-ops aren't all that cheaper than grocery stores. I go to a local JA market to avoid Fukushima food and they aren't all that much cheaper and at times, the quality is worse.

2 ( +4 / -2 )

With all due respect those expressing their personal opinions and feelings, the media only took up the matter as news worthy and to give credit those few or many that do reflect the strength and character of the farmers that appear to reflect what the general public "assume" and "presume" to be that of the Japanese samurai.

Regardless of country ,"farmers" or those who work the earth to produce food to feed the rest of the world are to be "respected" for the hardships they bear from weather and climate change to competition and unpredictable disasters. For that... ALL nations do "support" and often "subsidize" their work. How they do that may be sometimes questionable. However, NONE of us will be around without their work and efforts, regardless of the kind of profits they make.

One must first remember that what comes into our hands are the results of the work of others, unless you make them yourself, regardless of quality or price.

One other thing... everything we consume to sustain life is with the sacrifice of the life of another... from plants to animals... they all died so we may live.

-2 ( +1 / -3 )

Japanese farmers may create the best produce on earth (I disagree), but all opening up foreign trade would do is present the average Japanese a CHOICE. They can choose expensive, high quality (allegedly) Japanese produce, or much cheaper foreign farm goods. Nobody is forcing anybody to buy anything. If Japanese people continue to choose Japanese produce, or whether they choose foreign produce, it's their CHOICE.

As it stands now, they don't have a CHOICE. All foreign trade is give people a CHOICE.

And if Japanese farmers didn't get such huge subsidies, they wouldn't stay in business.

2 ( +3 / -1 )

@gaijininfo So if you put 3 million farmer families out of work, including communities which depend on agriculture for their lifeblood, are you volunteering the Japanese taxpayers (of which I am one) to pay for it? All countries have a responsibility to support their local commerce first. The Japanese public is split on TPP... its not a black and white issue. In fact, considering that Japan is so urbanized, the fact that opinion is split almost 50/50 says a lot about Japanese wanting to protect its traditional agrarian culture.

-3 ( +0 / -3 )

Farmers in Japan face the same plight of farmers in the USA - allegedly the land of milk and honey - poverty. There is a way to reutilize idle agrarian resources without welfare, in a sustainable manner, which also contributes to the social economy - but you'll have to watch China to see how this plays out. The free market west is far too greedy and vicious to care about poor farmers who don't have enough money to contribute to various political campaigns - let alone pay for a bucket of golf balls at the exclusive membership only driving range.

China may be a so-so government - but it's doing well for a relatively new government. Second largest economy in the world - rapidly approaching super-power status - and they haven't even really ramped up yet. On top of that - China pays close attention to its rural areas - always the hotbed of revolutions and general rabble raising. While China (noted by the UN) has made consistent and steady progress towards poverty reduction and elimination, the US is hitting records - near depression are percentages of a rising socio-economic class of poverty stricken.

Domestic agriculture, like OIL, is a national security issue. No government can afford to be dependent on foreign imports of agro-goods.

The US solved the problem of poverty amongst farmers by allowing large corporations to take over the industry, effectively forcing most small farmers out of business. This resulted in some fairly serious consumer abuses - steroid laced meats, insecticide laced produce, and massive outbreaks of diseases such as salmonella, eboli, etc from lax quality control practices (a la the fukushima crisis perhaps, remember snow brand milk?).

Unfortunately - Japan will eventually migrate to the corporate agriculture model, once some corporate giant decides to enter the space. The only solution for farmers is to expand their product line using the resources at their disposal - that said - should be interesting to see how China addresses/resolves this problem.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

@gaijininfo So if you put 3 million farmer families out of work, including communities which depend on agriculture for their lifeblood, are you volunteering the Japanese taxpayers (of which I am one) to pay for it?

Why would they automatically go out of business? If the people want Japanese fruit and veg, they can buy them - while people like myself will opt for cheaper options. They also have a chance/push to reinvent themselves. Like I said, I would pay an arm and a leg for organic veggies from places like Kyushu. I doubt I am the only one.

Companies that don't offer bang for the buck, competitive rates... go out of business. Why should farmers be any different? If isn't like Japan doesn't have any other options. And again, look at the average age if the farmers. They should be retired anyway so... This talk of them being on welfare and the like... they pretty much already are. Get their land and work it properly.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Farming here needs to be consolidated and the land and rescources used properly, mar n par growing a cabbage and a daikon on a 8th of an acre isnt farming where i come from, its called gardening.

Farming needs to be taken serious like any other business, large organisations need to merge the land take over the whole thing, get proper machinery and technology with the right workers and become productive then the govt can drop the subsidies and the whole thing kneaded into the the right concept to take on feeding its own popluation and being competitive when the TTP kicks in.

At the moment the way they farm here its a joke, no way is it even close to farming it's just gardening and on a small scale.

I can see a fairly good business opportunity here for the right minded groups but sadly to get these locals to see the light will be difficult.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

What Mr. Landsberg fails to grasp is that farming isn't a matter for "farming families", instead it is a retirement pastime. Speak to some of the older Japanese salarymen and they'll say that for their retirement they'd like to head back to their home prefecture, join a community farming co-operative and spend their retirement "farming". What the protestant work ethic never quite got was that farming is not a full-time occupation, you have busy periods like harvesting and planting, and then long periods of waiting where you just need to do a couple of hours a day of weeding and routine tasks like watering.

Before anyone leaps down my throat, I'm not talking about huge 100 hectare modern farms, I'm talking about the small Japanese farms. In my area (which is decidely rural) the old people organise co-operatives to rent land from land-holders. They all get involved in the planting, harvesting and other peak times, and for these peak times they rent the machinery they need for a couple of days at reasonable prices, and the work is done quickly and without much fuss.

I've talked to some of them and they don't make a lot of money, but that's not their objective, they're looking for something to give their retired lives structure and a sense of purpose. Yes, there are serious "farming families" out there, but most of the farming in Japan is done by ex-salarymen and ex-office ladies, and I think it's wonderful that these people are doing something productive with their retirement.

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The high prices of products are certainly not reflected in the farmers earnings since they do not make that much them self. Would they than a lot more people would take this profession up them self. Farming has always been hard work and long hours. Down times are spend fixing machines and equipment since once the planting or harvesting starts every thing better works like a swiss clock or you could lose it all. If animals are around like in mixed operation such as can be fund in Chiba or Nagano prefectures, than it is all work 365 days a year and not much profit. Yes, Japanese products are of hight quality and it is a way of farming that will become more common in the near future again since fossil fuels will get very expensive and large factory farms are already now running into troubles since many are no longer able to make ends meet and live on equity. TPP though will harm the local farming industry and Japan needs to think carefully what it wishes for. Since once it's gone, it is very hard to reestablish and Japan as all other countries will need its agriculture in the next two decades with transportation cost going up and political unrest being on the rise as well as climate changes that all may threaten our food security. The UN is already preparing for such and raised this issue with alarm bells ringing.

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Frungy -- The author states in the article "But today, there are barely only 3 million farming families left in Japan. In fact, 60% of all farmers hold other part-time jobs. They’re likely to be over 65 as well as have children, even grandchildren who’ve settled down in the city."

The article concludes by saying that farming is turning into more of an "art" than an "industry". You seem to be arguing the same point while attacking the author.

I'm confused what point you disagree with?

As to the facts... I believe there are only 350,000 farmers who represent the "core" Japanese labor force.

According to the Tokyo Foundation there are 2.85 million remaining farming households. http://www.tokyofoundation.org/en/articles/2008/the-perilous-decline-of-japanese-agriculture-1

If you refer to page 6 below you'll see that there are 5 types of farming household and the actual make up (in terms of commercial vs. side business. etc.) http://www.oecd.org/dataoecd/35/53/43245392.pdf

Also you state...

Yes, there are serious "farming families" out there, but most of the farming in Japan is done by ex-salarymen and ex-office ladies, and I think it's wonderful that these people are doing something productive with their retirement.

Two points... 1) I'd like to see a statistic that supports the statement that "most" of the farming in Japan is done by ex-salarymen and ex-office ladies. It is a fact that a great deal are farming cooperatives -- no doubt. 2) But if true, this correlates with the author's statement that farming is turning more into an art than an "industry".

The author states that the economy is bad and needs to modernize. He acknowledges that in terms of the products they make, farmers are doing a great job, but the industry is dying (A "part time hobby" or "post retirement" hobby is definitely not a "vibrant industry".) He predicts that farming will survive as an art, and trade liberalization will prevail. I'm confused which points you disagree with?

tmarie Actually, a lot of farms in Japan are organic. They're small independent farms who collectivize, so if you support Japanese agriculture, you are achieving your ends.

There are two issues threatening them. From within the "middle man" problem, but from without the possibility of countries with much cheap production costs dumping products -- in which case they could not compete. -- Then, as several other people mentioned, there is a national security issue as well as eternal economics. (All countries have to be able to produce certain amounts of their own food, but at the same time can not pay their work force "third world" labor wages."

http://www.nishoren.org/en/?p=1099 JA is the organization that helps support the collective. http://www.zenchu-ja.or.jp/eng/objectives/index.html

Mr. Uwe above, pretty much sums up the situation excellently.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

@johnnygogo

@gaijininfo So if you put 3 million farmer families out of work, including communities which depend on agriculture for their lifeblood, are you volunteering the Japanese taxpayers (of which I am one) to pay for it?

You (and all other Japanese taxpayers, including me) are ALREADY paying, on average, 40% of the salaries of these farmers.

What I can't understand, is why ANYBODY would want to continue to pay taxes to support a small fraction of the population, and prohibit the other 120 million people from being able to buy cheap produce. By forcing EVERYBODY to pay taxes to support current farmers, you are forcing EVERYBODY to pay higher prices for farm goods.

If people want to continue to buy these high priced, high quality farm goods, they can. However, if they also want to buy low priced, similar quality imported farm goods, they can also.

Asking people to subsidize farmers who can't compete on an international level is a bit foolish from an economic standpoint.

Why not subsidize the Japanese movie industry as well, since Hollywood generally does much better?

Why not start subsidizing Japanese electronics, since Korea and other countries are starting to outsell them?

Protecting these farmers out of some nostalgic, romantic notion of the past will lead to further and further decline of the average Japanese standard of living.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

Hmm, from reading everyones comments, I feel quite lucky! I have several road-side fruit, veg, eggs and rice shops near my house. Also, there are some local meats too. I see the farms everyday as I go to and from work and most of the people working on them live in my community. They are eldery and far from rich, but are happy to be feeding the community. Also, the shops are very reasonably priced.

I can understand people wanting cheaper options but I think that if Japan loses its farmers, it will be doing more harm in the long run. Yes, you can mechanize farms and grow massive fields of one type of veg...but if there is a disease outbreak what will happen? They will all go to watse! And that is more likely to happen if it is all organic. Worst yet, is if that happens in a country that supplies to Japan. They may decide not to ship any it over here but feed their people instead, meaning that we would have to go without. I am much happier paying for farmers subsudies than trying to get cheaper food from abroad (which adds to greenhouse gases for the transport and waste that occurs from food going bad during transportation).

2 ( +3 / -1 )

johnygogogo:

When I go shopping at local supermarkets I don't have to spend all my time digging through products with fingernail indentations in them because people know they have to check them out to make sure they're not rotten in the middle.

Are you serious? I've lost track of the amount of times I've taken food home, from any of the three grocery stores in my neighborhood, and found that it's bad in the middle or on the side that was covered by white packaging. I've given up going back for a refund and now just take everything out of such wrapping, piece by piece, in the grocery store and put it in my bag if it's not rotten. It saves time. On top on that problem, there's the poor shelf / refrigerator of so many fruits and vegetables here. I've never had as much trouble with things going bad so quickly as I have here, and I've lived in a few different countries so I've got room to compare.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Lot of folks here seem to think the price of veggies in the city is based on being fleeced by farmers in the country, nothing cud be farther from the truth, JA, trucking, distribution, markups all add to the costs.

Many farms are small but they cant expand due to stupid rules & admin & stubborn familes that wont sell the ancestors land etc.

And whoever it was who wanted proof on the plague that is JA, come on if you live in Japan it shud be obvious, JA strong arms farmers BIGTIME, they have to buy, seed & supplies from designated sellers, JA controls the prices, JA runs gas stations, funeral homes & even BANKS for christ sake. JA have a vice like grip on local farmers, try to get around JA & your name is quickly mud, its dirty as hell & I aint talking about frolicking in a ricefield!

Unless a lot of things change farmers will continue to just get by, I know lots of these people & its a select few in rural communities who reap rich rewards, most just get by.

There is a whole lot that shud have been done over the years that hasnt happened but the farmers for the most part a stuck in & screwed by the same system just as the customers in Japan are.

And this kind of crap is systemic in many other industries as well, thats why Japan is heading south fast these days, the olds ways stopped working in the 80s but too many havent figured that out yet!

1 ( +1 / -0 )

tmarie Actually, a lot of farms in Japan are organic. They're small independent farms who collectivize, so if you support Japanese agriculture, you are achieving your ends.

This is a joke right? Have you ever spent time out in the country side and watched the amount of crap they spray on their fields, trees and whatnot?? "A lot"? I am sure there may be a few but I haven't across any.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

tmarie,

there are organic farmers, the guy I rent a bit of land to grow my personal veggies is organic, took him 7-8yrs just to be certified as such, he sells his stuff fairly locally though, dont think any of his stuff reaches big cities.

If you want organic produce maybe you shud ask your grocer to BUY the stuff, it does exist, but I suspect most grocers just dont want to bother with it, thats why you never see much of it.

As for spraying yeah some stuff gets doused pretty good, one thing one of my farmer friends told me was to avoid japanese pears, nashi, they can be sprayed up to 40times in a single season, so I avoid that. And by growing a bunch of my own I also know how they were grown.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

My parents who come to Japan a couple times a year are different. My father’s a bargain hunter. I do my shopping at Belc. He goes to Costco. God forbid I should spend 3,000 yen on fruit and vegetables after he’s stuffed the freezer with bags of cheap frozen stuff for a fraction of the price

What a wonderfult, colorful. wrongheaded example.

Costco sells romaine lettuce, which is superior to the Japanese iceberg and sunny lettuce. They also carry superb bell peppers for one-third what you would pay in a supermarket for the inferior Japanese product. Zuccini, button mushrooms, raspberries, blueberries, string beans -- all excellent, all cheap, all fresh and not frozen.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

I am sure there are - I am just laughing that someone claims there are "a lot".

I'm still trying to get my shop to stop stocking crap from Tohoku - complained again just last night about it - and made a point of not buying veggies in front ogf produce manager while telling my husband loudly we'll head to the neigbouring shop!

0 ( +0 / -0 )

How about Fukushima san cheap and .......put a few in the basket did ya?

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Farmers have got FA to do with samurai Eddie...........

0 ( +0 / -0 )

To use the images of samurai and farmers as a fused single entity is to ignore the factual history of Japan

0 ( +1 / -1 )

Tmarie, I'm still trying to get my shop to stop stocking crap from Tohoku >>

That's really sensitive of you... are you aware how large Tohouku is?

There are a small number of hysterical customers that refuse to eat Tohouku products... and there are others who wish to support it and are grateful when JA sponsors famer's markets at the train station.

Stories that put contamination in context... http://www.npr.org/blogs/health/2011/03/22/134746912/radioactive-milk-only-a-danger-after-58-000-glasses. http://www.oregonlive.com/today/index.ssf/2011/03/radiation_found_in_milk_spinach_at_farms_near_japan_nuclear_complex.html

kurisupisu, I think you're missing the author's analogy. When Japan had to modernize in the Meiji era the Samurai were cast aside. Now that Japan has to modernize, the farmer's may be getting cast aside. The Samurai today are a symbol of traditional Japanese culture. Japan is an agrarian society. Get the point???

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

Why is everything "the last samurai?"

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Johnny, I am but with all the tainted food and whatnot, I am not taking any chances. Feel free to stuff yourself on food from Tohoku, I won't and won't buy produce from a shop that sells it. Customers vote with their feet. I vote and let them know why I won't support their store. Try and buy local when I can anyway so I don't see a problem with it. Perhaps you do which is fine - you feed your family what you like, I'll feed mine what I like.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

@Johnnygogogo

Quite possibly....... but I believe that the samurai class became the Japanese army which in turn morphed into the suited businessman. To allude that a farmer's (even as a characterisation) could be paired with samurai is a chalk and cheese analogy. What Eddie ignores is the character that makes a life in agriculture possible in this country-that was lacking in most of the samurai, and is precisely why they became samurai in the first place.

The dearth of agriculture is a fact but that is also a reversible situation and in the near future will reverse-many factors will influence this.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

but I believe that the samurai class became the Japanese army which in turn morphed into the suited businessman>> kurispupisu-san, Not quite... Many of the Samurai were the folks who became the bureaucrats and political leaders.

The army recruited from the peasant class, but I'm not sure what percent were peasants. My assumption is that the higher ranking officers would have been more likely to have come from the samurai class, but the "masses" would have been peasants, meaning from the agrarian sector. (Somebody please correct me if I'm wrong.)

As for why the samurai became samaurai... it was because... their parents were Samurai.

My biggest worry is that to compete Japan will revive agriculture in part by importing lot's of foreign labor and underpaying them. Illiterate in Japanese, and initially viewing the low paying salary as "opportunities", Japanese workers will resent them for taking their jobs (the jobs they don't want to do anyway), and being "bottom of the ladder" and having a lack of upwardly mobile opportunities they will be subject to discrimination as well as have social problems which are often common in the case of migrant workforces ANYWHERE in the world. (They're exploited for cheap labor when the economy is good. When the economy is bad they're blamed for crime and stealing jobs... They have children who want to have the same opportunities as the people they work for, but are associated with "low level labor" and shunned -- and are also accused of further stealing jobs and opportunities and corrupting the culture.)

0 ( +0 / -0 )

My father in law is a rice farmer in the north western corner of Saitama, and that family have lived on the very same plot of land for 400 years. He is a farmer in the true sense of the word - he knows his job inside out, he produces great rice and vegetables, he knows the earth, the seasons, politics. He is a stalwart of his community, he has status there, a sense of pride and place that is well infused in his daughters. I admire his life. He is a very settled and happy man who is proud of what he does. I doubt he thinks of himself as any kind of Samurai, but there is no doubt that the farm land around him is slowly turning to houses and parking lots and shopping centres. Tokyo creeps towards them relentlessly. He has no sons, so unless his grandsons want to change their urban life for a rural one, the centuries old family business will end soon. And having spent many great times with him at his fantastic old country farmhouse, I think that is very sad.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Why don't you step up Tamarama and take over then?

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Ha ha! My wife has jokingly asked me that. It's not my cup of tea.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Sp you can see why others aren't stepping up either.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

@tmarie Yes, its a hard life. That's why the children of the farmers chose to get educated and become businessmen -- The guys that are still doing it are the last of a breed. 100 or so years ago, they made up the vast portion of the population. I think after the war, they may have eve still made up 50%... now they're down to nothing, but the government wants to find a way to get more people to farm; however, it won't be easy.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

tmarie

Sp you can see why others aren't stepping up either

No, not really. In my case, I am from a completely different cultural group with a completely different background and a professional career I do well from. I live in a great place and own my home. My Japanese is poor and I see no reason to try to attempt the huge cultural leap into rural village life in Japan. But, I can see the appeal for the right (Japanese) person - the craft of farming is something I admire and respect, the lifestyle is good. There is plenty to like about it. FYI His young grandsons are considering it, just to put your mind at ease there, tmarie.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Do you think it is any different from those grand-kids who were raised in the city - whom some are suggestion should take over the family farm?

I don't think you need much language skills, culture doesn't really matter.... - not trying to push you into this but just pointing out that many people don't want this kind of life. So, sell off the land, stop crying about the the poor family farms as no one wants to carry on the family traditions, and let the large companies take over. That way we can stop giving them a large chuck of our tax money, get cheaper fruit and veg and possibility not have to rely on other countries so much!

0 ( +0 / -0 )

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