For decades now Japan has been a haven for the food lover in search of culinary delights, and it’s no wonder. Domestically grown produce like tea, fruit, and vegetables are renowned for their premium taste and quality, and whether you eat meat or not, chances are you’ve heard of Wagyu and Kobe beef.
With an increasing demand for quality produces both domestically and internationally, the agriculture industry of Japan is on the rise. Yet, the industry is also not without its problems. For one, agriculture is highly dependent on climate can face a decrease in productivity in the case of a natural disaster. Another pressing problem is one you’ve probably heard before, that is the ever-decreasing population leading to labor shortage, particularly in rural areas.
According to the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry, and Fisheries (MAFF), products and food exports in 2018 saw an increase of 12.4% from the previous year, reaching a 906.8 billion yen in the total amount of export. Among those figures, 566.1 billion yen is from agricultural products alone.
Popular products include eggs, sweet potatoes, strawberries, beef, and apples, which are primarily exported to other Asian countries like China and Hong Kong, and also the United States. Additionally, rice exports have increased by 16.5% from the previous year to 14,000 tons.
Among the Japanese prefectures, Hokkaido has an overwhelming majority of farmlands, with over 1 million hectares, followed Niigata, and Aomori. Out of the top 5 prefectures in terms of agricultural output, Hokkaido, Kagoshima, and Miyazaki are the top 3 prefectures for livestock production, while Ibaraki and Chiba hold the largest shares in vegetable production.
In recent years, a decreasing trend can be seen in the total number of farms in the country, however, we also see a rise in the number of corporation farms, most likely because of easier access to both human and business resources. That being said, the MAFF evaluates the labor shortages in the agriculture industry as severe, with an estimated 70 thousand more farmers required as of 2017. The effects of Japan’s aging population can also be observed with the average age of persons engaged in farming is stated to be 67.
While the industry is actively employing the use of machines and technology to quicken the farming process and improve efficiency, human labor remains crucial in many aspects. The introduction of the Specified Skilled Workers is therefore expected to play a big role in alleviating some of the effects of labor shortage, by bringing in foreign labor who can work in farms and rural areas where the population is in decline.
Activities relating to the rearing of livestock such as pigs, chickens, and cows fall under this category. Workers will primarily care for the animals, and also produce animal feed and clean up animal living areas. Similar to the previous category, work will not be limited to direct caring of livestock. Workers may also work in processing animal products such as meat and milk, as well as packaging, transporting, and selling produce. While this may sound like a lot of work, the law actually mandates that once a worker is assigned a primary activity, that activity must take up over half of the worker’s overall working time. For example, if someone’s main activity is assigned as vegetable cultivation, they will plant, water, and harvest vegetables at least 50% of their working time. They may carry out related activities such as harvesting fruit or processing crop into other products sometimes, while other activities such as packaging and transport will only be done occasionally (less than 1/3 of total working time).
For more information on the Specified Skilled Worker visa for the agricultural industry, please see
The agriculture industry of Japan is a resilient one – able to rebuild quickly despite Japan’s volatile climate bringing earthquakes and hurricanes, as well as constantly striving for better quality and new innovations despite challenges.
With domestic and international demand for agricultural products continues to be on the rise as well as the increasing involvement of corporation farms, steady growth is projected for the industry. As farms begin employing more foreign labor like the Specified Skilled Workers, it would be interesting to see how the industry would develop in the coming years.
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