Food is a culture. This is especially true in a food-obsessed country like Japan where the national cuisine uniquely reflects its natural environment, regional diversity and underlying value system of this resilient country.
If you were to think of your ten favorite Japanese foods, what would they be? Your list would likely include sushi and sashimi. You might even include tempura, sukiyaki, shabu-shabu and teppanyaki.
However, the future of Japanese food is uncertain. Although it’s easy to conclude that the uncertainty stems from the shift to a Western style diet of steaks and hamburgers, and although that is an important factor, that isn’t the reason. The challenges facing the future of Japan’s food supply are rather complex and appear intractable.
One issue that has received a considerable amount of attention from the Japanese government is the fact that Japan’s food self-sufficiency, based on the amount of calories consumed, was only 39 percent in 2010. The remaining 61 percent of the calories comes from imported food.
Along with changing consumer preferences for more foods not traditionally considered Japanese (e.g., pasta and wheat for bread), the dire state of Japanese agriculture is one of the primary drivers of this problem. According to FAOSTAT, the rural population of Japan continues to decline (from 35.4 percent of the total population in 1996 to 32.9 percent in 2011) and there are only about 2.6 million farmers out of a population of more than 125 million and their average age is 65.
In light of the March 11, 2011 disaster, certain foods like yoghurt and natto (fermented soybeans) became scarce when energy saving programs threatened the constant supply of electricity that provides a hygienic and cool environment.
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This article is a repost of Future of Food in Japan.