Rice is one of the staple foods in traditional Japanese cuisine. Rice forms the base of many traditional meals and is usually eaten with several side dishes. It is also commonly used in popular convenience food items like bento boxes and rice balls (onigiri). Apart from its consumption in everyday meals, rice is also used in the production of a variety of processed foods, including rice vinegar, Japanese rice wine, known as sake, as well as foods made from rice flour. The latter is used as an ingredient in traditional Japanese confectioneries such as rice cake (mochi) and dumplings (dango).
However, the annual consumption volume of rice per capita in Japan decreased to around 49 kilograms in recent years, indicating a downward trend as western-style cuisine, based on wheat flour, milk, dairy products, and meat, grows more popular among consumers.
Rice production in Japan
Farming in Japan focuses on crop production as vegetables and rice remain the agricultural products with the largest production volume. However, the production volume of rice continued to decrease due to the diversification in food as well as increasing abandoned agricultural land. The latter is caused by a shrinking work force as Japanese farmers are aging while few are willing to enter the sector due to the declining profitability of farming and low incomes.
Only about 20 percent of the land area of the mountainous island nation is suitable for cultivation. The cultivatable area is intensively farmed, with rice paddies occupying most of the countryside. Paddy fields are the main form of rice cultivation, accounting for the largest area of planted rice fields. Due to a shortage of large, flat farmland, farmers often utilize small, terraced paddies built into mountain slopes.
Predicted impact of global warming on rice production
Global warming has already influenced Japan's climate in recent years, resulting in higher average temperatures, increased rainfall, and intensifying natural disasters such as typhoons and heatwaves. Climate change affects the agricultural sector, causing inhibited growth of crops and a change in the distribution of water.
Among the predicted impacts of global warming on rice production in Japan are a decrease in potential paddy rice yield in some areas and a shift in areas suitable for growing rice further north. While the yield is expected to increase in northern regions such as Hokkaido, it will likely decrease in southern regions, as the local climate will become too hot to grow the crop there. Furthermore, warmer temperatures are predicted to impact crop productivity and quality significantly.
Rice imports through the minimum access system
The self-sufficiency ratio of rice increased to 98 percent in 2021, indicating that the share of rice consumed in Japan is almost entirely covered by domestic production. But since rice consumption continues to decrease, the country is continuously increasing rice exports. Currently, Japanese-grown rice is mainly exported to Hong Kong, Singapore, and the United States.
In Japan, foreign rice is imported and sold by the government through the minimum access system. Under the Uruguay Round in the General Agreement on Trade and Tariffs in 1993, Japan must import a specific amount of rice tariff-free every year. Japan currently imports around 767 thousand tons of rice annually under that system, while about 7.8 million tons are harvested domestically. The imported rice is mainly used as animal feed or for processed rice-based foods.
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