Iconic for the unique culture and extensive history, Japan is an incredibly interesting country. Japan consists of 6,852 islands with the largest being Honshu, Shikoku, Kyushu, Hokkaido and Ryukyu Island Chain (JICC, 2018). It’s located in the northwest quadrant of the Pacific Ocean, adjacent to South Korea and China. Due to the proximity of these other countries, you can find cultural influence, with the exception the historical isolation from 1603-1867 (New World Encyclopedia, 2017). Today, Japan is home to over 126 million residents and 98.5% are Yamato Japanese (Global Sherpa, 2018). Japan has the longest life expectancy at birth which is 83.2 years (Worldbank). The capital city is Tokyo where the population is 13 million in the city and 32.5 million in the metropolitan area. Japan has a shrinking population, due to a large elderly population, low fertility rate for women, and minimal net immigration. It is predicted that Japan’s population will decrease by more than 25% (95 million people) (Global Sherpa, 2018). Relative to other countries, Japan is fairly small. However, it’s culinary arts and foods have reached all corners of the world.
Traditional Japanese cuisine is known as Washoku and is characterized by an emphasis on sea food and soybean products and little animal fat or meat. Flavors are enhanced by umami, or the savory taste. Umami flavor is primarily achieved by the amino acid glutamate (Gabriel et al., 2018). This healthy diet is possibly linked to the long lives of people in Japan (Worldbank). Typical foods include noodles, rice and fish.
The basic structure of a Washoku meal is a staple, either rice or noodles accompanied by various side dishes, including vegetables and soup. Almost every meal in Japan is served with rice (Gabriel et al., 2018). It can be served boiled, steamed, or fried. A very popular combination with rice is curry. The most typical noodles are soba, white, and ramen noodles (Food by Country).
As an island nation, Japan has a ready supply of fish. Fish is grilled or fried and served with rice. Popular fish are salmon, tuna, and mackerel. Others prefer to eat fish cold in the form of sushi; fish rolled up in rice, served cold or hot and with in many varieties. Sashimi is cold fish without rice and dipped in wasabi or soy sauce (Ro, 2016).
Farmland is scarce and precious in Japan and the vast majority of it is devoted to rice fields. Minor crops include soybeans, wheat, barley, and vegetables (USDA). As of 2017, Japan’s top 2 partner countries for food exports include China and the United States. The three main food exports from Japan’s gross domestic product are seafood, prepared foods, and cereal, flour and starch (Globaledge). Japan has a total export of 644,932,439.50 in thousands of dollars from United States. Japan has 606,924,046.81 total imports which leads to a positive trade balance of 38,008,392.68 in thousands of dollars from the United States (Worldbank).
The top three imported commodities are soybeans, wheat, and maize. Most of the maize is used as livestock feed for an increasing beef industry (Barrett, et al., 2012). Other imported foods are seafood (1.78% of GDP), meat (1.5% of GDP), and prepared meats (0.926% of GDP) (Globaledge).
One major challenge for Japan is food self-sufficiency. Japan produces only about 39% of consumed calories, with the other 61% coming from imported foods. As a comparison, the United States has 124% calorie-based self-sufficiency, Canada has 168% and Australia has 173% (Barrett et al., 2012).
Another problem Japan is facing is a decline in their agricultural communities. Japan’s rural population has declined to only 2.6 million farmers in a population of over 125 million. This declining population is also aging; the average farmer’s age is 65. This pattern arises from both the shrinking population discussed above and the continued urbanization of the Japanese population (Barrett et al., 2012).
The Japanese government is also starting to consider problems that may arise in the future such as what the effect rising oil prices will have on the country’s food supply. Rising oil prices will lead to an increase in the cost of producing food (due to oil-fueled machinery) and therefore a potential decline in agricultural productivity. Expensive oil will also increase the cost of importing food, which will increase the price of food for the Japanese people (Barrett et al., 2012).
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