Agriculture is often said to be an endangered industry in Japan because the nation’s farming population has declined by 1 million from 3.3 million in 2005 to 2.3 million in 2013, and the average age of farmers in Japan is 66. However, women, who make up half of the total agricultural workforce in Japan, are beginning to play a greater role in revitalizing the nation’s farming industry by launching innovative agribusinesses involving the cultivation of high-quality and profitable commercial crops such as strawberries. According to statistics compiled by the Ministry of Agriculture, about 9,700 individual and group-operated business startups in the agricultural sector in Japan in 2012 were led by women, who have come up with innovative ways to process and market locally-grown produce. In the past, agriculture was a family business passed down from father to eldest son in traditionally conservative rural communities where wives were engaged in farming as a subordinate workforce. However, there is renewed interest in agriculture among young Japanese women today on account of their interest in food safety and food self-sufficiency. Many of the women who enter agribusiness do not necessarily come from farming backgrounds. In fact, their experience in a variety of business and academic fields such as IT and marketing has made it possible for them develop more efficient computer-assisted quality-control systems and more sophisticated marketing strategies.
Nikkei (4/13) quoted Nagoya University Professor Shinichi Shogenji as saying: “A positive cycle of change in the nation’s moribund agriculture sector and women’s increased participation in the industry has begun in Japan. Agribusiness today involves not only farming but also processing and marketing. Women are keenly aware of consumer needs, trends, and concerns, and increasing mechanization in the agriculture sector is lightening the physical burden of farm work on women. The concept of the eldest son inheriting his family farm is a story of the past. The flexible thinking of entrepreneurial women will bring innovation to agriculture.”
The government of Prime Minister Abe, who advocates creating a “society where woman shine,” has taken the initiative in urging women to participate in agriculture. The Ministry of Agriculture launched the “Nogyojoshi (women farmers) Project” in 2103 to promote collaboration between
female farmers and Japanese businesses. The number of women farmers participating in the project increased to 261 in 2015 from 37 in 2013, and a total of 21 companies in a wide range of industries, including machinery and garment manufacturing, food services, and retail, are involved in the project. One is Isaki. The machinery manufacturer launched last month a smaller tractor model that is easier for women to operate. Another is automaker Daihatsu, which last year developed a mini truck targeting women, based on the concept that a car that is friendly to women is friendly to all types of users.
First Lady Akie Abe is a strong advocate of the government initiative of promoting women’s participation in agriculture and revitalizing Japan’s farm sector, including the “Nogyojoshi Project.” Based on her interest in organic food and food safety and inspired by First Lady Michelle Obama’s kitchen garden and beehive project at the White House, Mrs. Abe established a colony of 30,000 Japanese honeybees at the Prime Minister’s Official Residence last week. The Japanese First lady also hosted Ambassador Kennedy at a rice-planting event in Yamaguchi Prefecture in June, and invited her husband to an agri-art festival held there last weekend. Accompanying his wife on the runway in a fashion show featuring clothing for farm work, the prime minister said: “We need to make agriculture an industry in which young people work with pride and hope.”