Japanese agriculture has undergone a profound transformation due both to the use of fish meal and chemical fertilizers and to the development of mechanization, and to an accentuated evolution of forms of land use, with the ever greater extension of horticulture and forage crops.
On the other hand, it plays a rather marginal role in the economic context of the country due to the significant contraction of assets in agriculture (1800: 80% of the active population; 1940: 43%; 1960: 33%; 1970: 21%, equal to to 10,864,000 working units), both due to the scarcity of cultivated land (4,669,000 ha, equal to 12.5% of the land area), which decreases both due to the mountainous character of the region (the forests cover more than 250,000 km 2), both for the increasing extension of the urban area and the space occupied by industries.
Cultivation systems are generally based on the contrast between the cultivated field, mostly rice paddy and irrigated by water derived from rivers or lakes, aquifers or artificial reservoirs, and the field fed only by rainwater.
According to aparentingblog, rice alone occupies more than half of the cultivated land (2,620,000 ha and 157.7 million q in 1973); the production, in addition to satisfying internal consumption, is also destined in large quantities to the production of sake and to a small extent for export. A variety has long been developed that also lends itself to the cold environment of Hokkaido, but most of the production comes from the irrigated areas of Shikoku, Kyushu, Honshu. Also widespread are wheat (75,000 ha and 2 million q), whose production is not enough for internal needs, and barley (80,000 ha and 2.1 million q). Wheat and barley are often winter crops that succeed the summer one for rice.
Other food plants include potatoes and sweet potatoes (respectively, in 1973, 3,302,000 q and 20,000,000 q), soy (1,180,000 q) and peanuts (970,000 q). Tea of great value is tea (950,000 q; fourth place in the world), spread on the mountain slopes of the islands of Kyushu, Shikoku and in the southern part of Honshu. Among the fruit-bearing crops, citrus fruits (2,900,000 q of oranges and 33,290,000 q of mandarins) have a notable development, which, in addition to satisfying internal consumption, give rise to good exports. Forests produce a huge amount of wood (4.5 million m 3): among the most precious essences are the trees of camphor, wax, lacquer.
Farming is undergoing a profound transformation, even if today it still occupies in many ways the modest role that is typical of it in the economy of the countries of the eastern world; the more and more pressing requests for meat, milk and dairy products by the big cities, and the changed kinds of life have increased the cattle herd (3.6 million head), which is raised rationally. The breeding of pigs (7.5 million heads) and above all the breeding of the silkworm (second place in the world with 105,111 t of cocoons) are closer to the Japanese tradition, whose raw material feeds local industries and is partly also exported.
Fishing sees Japan in first place in the world for quantity of fish landed (10.7 million t). It is carried out by about 290,000 boats and fishermen amount to about a million. The rivalry with Peru, which contends for the primacy – in some years with full success – has pushed Japan to organize fishing with increasingly modern techniques and avant-garde experiments to make the most of the sea, which represents for the country a living space. Fishing (tuna, salmon, herring, cod) is accompanied by an excellent canning industry, which often has its own boats: at the main fishing ports scattered across all four large islands (Makodate, Nakkanai, Kushiro, Otaru, Hyako, Chosi, Misaki, Fukuoka, Nagasaki) there are the largest industrial plants, in which 311 were produced in 1972.
Whale fishing has a very particular character (11,268 catches in 1972, with a production of 501,719 q of whale oil) for which seven farm ships and 69 whalers are equipped. In addition to fishing, there is also the collection of pearls (natural in Omura Bay near Nagasaki and cultivated in the nurseries of Toba) and coral, along the southern coasts of Shikoku and Kyushu. The collection of algae for food has recently taken off; fishing with its products contributes a total of 50% to the protein intake of animal origin in the Japanese diet.