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Farming industry in Japan - statistics & facts

The Japanese agricultural sector accounts for around one percent of the country's GDP. Even though only about 20 percent of the land area of the island nation is suitable for cultivation, it is intensively farmed, with rice paddies and fields occupying most of the countryside. Farming in Japan focuses on crop production, with livestock farming only playing a minor role in agricultural activities.
Known for its high-quality produce and meat, certain agricultural products are treated as items of prestige, retailing at exorbitant prices in Japan. However, the trade itself holds little appeal, particularly among younger generations. Physically demanding and barely profitable, few are willing to inherit their parents' farms or to enter the sector as newcomers. As individuals working in the industry are aging, the number of commercial farm households is consequently declining. Since Japan's self-sufficiency ratio remains low, the country relies on agricultural imports to feed the nation.
The heavily subsidized farming industry, in its traditional form, is collapsing. So how can Japan amend the bleak perspective of its agribusinesses?

Sustainable farming in Japan

Organic farming is still a minor industry within the Japanese agricultural sector. The hot and humid climate during summer poses challenges to sustainable agriculture. The rainy season in early summer brings heavy rain and floods, washing away soil and slowing down root growth. The extreme heat of the following months accelerates weed growth and insect propagation. To counteract the spread of weeds and insects, chemical fertilizers are oftentimes employed, which in turn damage the soil. Soil health, however, is essential for organic farming. Yet, both the area of certified organic farmland as well as the production volume of certified organic produce in Japan have been increasing, indicating a growing demand and awareness of sustainable farming methods among the population.
The Japanese Ministry for Agriculture, Forestry, and Fisheries established the Act of Japanese Agricultural Standards (JAS) in 2000, certifying organic farmland, organic plants, and organic plant-based processed foods. Since 2020, the JAS logo also verifies organic livestock products and organic animal-derived processed products, which follow the official guidelines of sustainable production, processing, labeling, and marketing.

Can vertical farming save Japan's agricultural sector?

In light of Japan's double threat to traditional agriculture, urbanization, and a greying agricultural workforce, the sector is turning to technological innovations. One of these is vertical farming. With this method, large quantities of produce can be grown indoors, stacked in layers on ceiling-high shelves. Almost no human labor is needed since the produce is shifted automatically by machines. Artificial light and smart machinery equipment guarantee consistent output and quality throughout the year. This independence from seasons and weather also allows for stable prices, making vertically farmed food an attractive alternative to traditionally cultivated produce for Japanese customers.
Under vertical farming conditions, neither soil nor fertilizers are needed. Together with comparably low water usage, vertical farming seems to be a promising alternative to traditional methods. However, energy demand for lighting and machinery are, together with high initial costs, aspects that keep investors hesitant. Shifting to renewable energy could be a step to make vertical farming more environmentally friendly, affordable, and therefore, commercially successful.
In a country, where land and labor are running short, vertical farming might solve some of the most pressing issues the Japanese farming sector is currently facing.

Interesting statistics

In the following 6 chapters, you will quickly find the 36 most important statistics relating to "Farming in Japan".


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