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Monday, October 08, 2012

Japan's Hidden Paddies Revealed

日本の隠れた田んぼ

Japan has a trick of keeping its countryside well hidden.  Take a train in Japan or drive in Japan, and most of the time the railway line or road is lined with buildings and houses. Even in the countryside, the roads tend to be pressed on either side by shops and dwellings. However, take a plane, and you see a different face of Japan.



The vast majority, over 80% of Japan's population lives in urban areas. Yet, with as huge a population as Japan has (about 127 million) that remaining 20% still makes for a lot of people.

I recently took a flight out of Japan and back, from Narita Airport, and it was brought home to me just how much farmland Japan has. All around Narita are endless hectares of rice paddies with clusters of housing around them. Drive through these areas and the clusters of houses are about all you encounter, but a view from above reveals the huge "back yards" of Japan's rural settlements, and the massive expanses of rice paddies that still keep about 5% of Japan's population fully employed.


Rice farming in Japan is heavily automated, with planting and harvesting largely done by machine, which explains why such a small percentage of the population can sustain agriculture on this scale.

Nevertheless, statistics released by the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries show that the acreage of rice paddies nationwide in Japan is steadily declining. Last year it was 1,632,000 hectares, and of course rice production is dropping accordingly. With Japan's increasingly aging population, and uncompetitiveness of Japanese rice production, and a decided lack of interest by young people in rice farming, the trend looks set to continue.

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