Tuesday, March 31, 2009

FRFOJ: Future Rice Farmers of Japan

The future of rice farms in Japan is apparently on rocky ground right now. Almost 70% of rice farmers in Japan are over the age of 60; this includes my father-in-law. While he no longer grows the rice to sell to others, in the days following World War II when my husband's grandfather was still alive, the family did in fact produce rice for the purpose of selling it -not to make a profit per se, but because it enabled the family to make a living and it fed a lot of hungry people back then.

Nowadays, my FIL grows plenty of rice to feed our immediate family as well as numerous extended family members and family friends. I don't think my husband foresees a time when we'd want to make this farm production quality again. However, part of the reason that we're here in Japan and trying to figure out how to keep things running in the future is that sustaining the family farm is important not just for nostalgic reasons, but because there are people that depend on the rice this farm produces each year.

It will take some time before my husband is able to maintain the farm on his own (he's a perfect example of the younger generation that doesn't really know how to farm anymore) and he'd still like to keep it functioning as a more "recreational" farm (as his father does now) than a serious profession. Additionally, we've talked about making changes to what is grown. I've seen some of my FIL's seed catalogs (this is one of my favorite times of year - seed catalogs are here!) and it reminds me of my own household when I was a child; my father was a big gardener himself and was always trying new vegetables. The difference is that with a milder climate here in Japan, we can grow many more varieties of vegetables and fruits and the growing season is basically year-round (as opposed to the climate in the northeast of the US where I grew up and the growing season was really only May-September).

Personally, I'd love to try growing peanuts! And purple potatoes. And more leafy greens. And tons more sweet potatoes. And more herbs... But everything takes time and the transition from our old life to this new one on the farm is still tenuous. However the promise of beautiful fruits and vegetables and the lure of those seed catalogs is hard to resist!


  1. Wow, you farm rice? Lucky!! I live too far up the mountain to have rice paddies here but I'm thinking of renting one in a neighbouring town.

    Peanuts are so cool to watch grow- the way the flowers return to the earth is really amazing.

    I'm impressed you get results with sweet potatoes. We get masses of regular potatoes but not so many sweet ones.

    And isn't Spring exciting planning your garden??

  2. We can't even grow grass in our yard (in lush SEATTLE!) much less have a farm. I am very impressed! That would be a lot of fun to select seeds and grow food. Neat!

  3. I had never thought about the fact the traditional farmers are growing old and it is a bit of a dying profession. When travelling Vietnam we heard the same story there, that the young ones are getting educated and don't want to farm like their ancestors.

    I love the idea of growing food to sustain yourself though (bonus if it sustains more than your own family). We, along with quite a lot of people I hear, have started our own little patch now that money is a bit tighter. Not sure if we'll have as much sucess as your rice farm, but we'll see.

  4. I have never been to a rice paddie area, heard of them, but I'd sure like to watch peanuts grow as well.... I wish I could find wild rice here though = )