Japan in Their Own Words (JITOW)/日本からの意見

Escape to Dreamland – Manchuria in the Past, Farming Today
GODO Yoshihisa  / Professor, Meiji Gakuin University

December 14, 2011
Over the past few years, public imagination has been captivated by fantasy stories of farming. In every notable bookstore, special corners have been set aside to showcase the romantic aspects of farming and agricultural success stories. On TV, "pundits" proudly offer explanations on the"unrivaled level of Japanese farming technology." Various slogans related to farming are being coined one after another, such as "local production for local consumption," "agro-commerce-industry collaboration," "semi-agricultural, semi-this and that." Corporate farming ventures and the younger generation’s engagement in agriculture are being widely promoted. Mired in a protracted economic slump described as the “lost two decades,” farming has become one of those few areas that provide us with positive news.
However, in reality Japanese agriculture is headed for collapse. As I mentioned in my last entry dated June 30, 2011, the disorderly use of farmland continues unchecked. This is preventing farmers from raising their proficiency in cultivation skills. As evidenced by the frequent occurrence of rice lodging and hollowing out of potatoes, Japanese farming has become vulnerable to the slightest climatic change. The quality of our crop, such as nutritional value, has also deteriorated. We saw how swiftly Japanese products were overwhelmed by our Asian neighbors in the manufacturing sector, and the same thing is about to happen to our agricultural products.

How can there be a "farming boom" in Japan when farming in reality is in such a lethargic state? As I will explain below, the answer to this question becomes clear once we realize the similarities between today's "farming boom" and the "Manchurian boom" of the 1930s.

Historically, the worst economic slump experienced by Japan was the depression that occurred from 1920 following the boom of the World War I years. Until then, Japanese society was generally doing quite well. The country had scored consecutive victories in its wars against China and against Russia, as well as in World War I. It now had the makings of a heavy industry, which allowed Japan to bask in the self-esteem of having become the only non-Western country to join the ranks of a "first-rate nation."

However, all that changed after the post-WWI depression, under which financial instability and mass unemployment became the norm. Against this backdrop the electoral system for the Lower House was revised and all adult males were given the right to vote following the introduction of universal manhood suffrage in 1925. Under the two-party rivalry between the Seiyukai (Friends of Constitutional Government) and the Minseitou (Constitutional Democratic Party), It was left to the popular will expressed through elections to change the government. And under this new system, a vigorous economic reformist named Inoue Jun'nosuke rose to prominence as a leader. Inoue's bold policies such as reducing the salary of public servants and setting a moratorium on bank deposits took the public by surprise. The climax of his reforms came in January 1930, when Japan returned to the gold standard.

Yet, even after Inoue's reforms, the Japanese economy showed no signs of a recovery. It was in this context that the public began to seek an escape from reality by entertaining dreams of a new life in Manchuria. Thus the feverish pitch of the "Manchurian boom" had begun. From rightists to leftists, the entire population was gripped by the arcadian fantasy offered by Manchuria. Idealistic slogans including "Odo-Rakudo (land of peace and prosperity under a virtuous ruler)" and "Gozoku-Kyowa (harmony among the five ethnic groups in Asia)" were introduced one after another in a concerted campaign by the government and the private sector to encourage mass immigration. However, contrary to the dream embraced by the Japanese public, it is now common knowledge that in reality Manchuria at the time was headed for ruin.

Turning the clock back to the post-World War II era, we notice an uncanny resemblance between the course of events that took place then and now. In 1990, seventy years after the post-WWI depression, Japan was hit hard by the collapse of the bubble economy. Up to that point the Japanese economy had been running at top gear, making "Japan as No.1" an international buzzword. But since the bubble burst, the country has been caught up in a prolonged tunnel of zero growth in real terms with no end in sight.

Against this background, the electoral system for the Lower House was revised in 1994 in a shift to a single-seat constituency system. This revised electoral system gave rise to the realignment of political parties into the two-power rivalry between the Liberal Democratic Party and the Democratic Party of Japan, whereby they came to vie for power through elections. It was under this new system that a unique leader named Koizumi Jun'ichiro emerged. Koizumi forced through reforms such as the reduction of public projects and disposal of bad loans, and his drive for reform reached its peak with the dissolution of Lower House on the single issue of disbanding the postal services in August 2005. However, even after Koizumi’s reforms the Japanese economy showed no signs of a recovery. Japan has fallen behind China in terms of GDP, and its once vigorous economy has completely lost its shine in the face of the momentous growth underway in emerging Asian countries. We must be aware that it is in this context of social stagnation that the "farming boom" has cropped up as a fiction offering people an escape from reality.

Perhaps the Japanese have gotten the meaning of the words "learning from the tragic events of the past" completely wrong. There is a tendency to understand these words within the limited context of "we should not go to war." However, the real lesson here is that mass media and "pundits" often concoct fantasies to accommodate populist sentiment, allowing dangerous illusions to permeate society without restraint.
The writer is Professor of Economics at Meiji Gakuin University.
The English-Speaking Union of Japan

神門善久 / 明治学院大学教授

2011年 12月 14日







 このような中、1994年に衆議院議員選挙制度が改定され、小選挙区制が導入される。この選挙制度改定により、自民党と民主党への二大政党へと政界が再編され、両党が選挙で政権を争う構造へと移行する。この新たなシステムのもと、小泉純一郎という斬新なリーダーが生まれる。小泉は公共事業削減や不良債権処理を断行し、郵政解散 (2005年8月)によって彼の改革は最高潮に達する。しかし、一連の小泉改革後も、日本経済は不況を一向に脱しない。GDPで中国に追い抜かれるなど、アジアの新興国の勢いの前に、日本経済はかつての活力の見る影もない。このような閉塞感の中で、いわば現状逃避的に虚偽の「農業ブーム」がおきていると考えるべきである。

一般社団法人 日本英語交流連盟

English Speaking Union of Japan > Japan in Their Own Words (JITOW) > Escape to Dreamland – Manchuria in the Past, Farming Today