Japan Economy and Population

Economic structure

Primary sector

The weight of the primary sector in the Japanese economy in 2004 was 4.3% in terms of the active population and 1.3% in terms of GDP. Currently there are just under 3 million people employed in the primary sector, and 85% of them are engaged in these activities only part-time in tiny plots, obtaining most of their income from other sources.

Japanese agriculture faces the same problems as any other developed country, within the framework of a declining and aging population. But it is distinguished by the tiny size of the farms and the enormous costs of production. Ironically, for a country like Japan, this prevents the mechanization, rationalization, and cost reduction that economies of scale allow.

Current agricultural policy is geared towards reducing the number of farmers. However, the lobbying of influential agricultural cooperatives to protect traditional Japanese agriculture stifles attempts at market liberalization.

During the last decades, Japan has removed many of its barriers that limited access to its agricultural markets. Even so, strong barriers remain in some basic products considered critical, such as rice. Sanitary controls are very strict and some technical problems persist regarding food additives and phytosanitary barriers for fruits and vegetables.

Today Japan is the world’s largest net importer of agricultural products. It is the second largest importer of wheat, corn and meat in the world, and the second largest importer of soybeans, after the United States. Japan’s self-sufficiency rate has declined steadily since 1960; in fiscal year 2002 ending in March 2003 it was 40% in calories and 28% in cereals.

In the case of forestry, the strong increase in the demand for wood stands out, of which local production only covers 20%. Consequently, Japan imports large quantities, mainly from the United States, Southeast Asia and New Zealand. The import of wood (549 billion yen) represents 1.23% of the total value of the country’s imports (44.33 billion yen).

The Japanese fishing industry is one of the most important in the world, representing around 10% of world production. However, it faces structural problems, due to labor shortages, international differences on fishing rights and environmental legislation problems. Since Japan left the first world position in fishing in the mid-1980s, many companies in the sector have adopted new productive activities, diversifying their field towards the food or pharmaceutical industry.

Catches have fallen below 10 million tons per year since 1990 and have continued to decline to 4.8 million tons in 2001. With the adoption in 1975, internationally, of economic zones of 200 nautical miles, Japanese fishing suffered a severe blow, as its fishing was especially effective on the high seas. Consequently, fish imports have been increasing steadily and account for about 55% of Japanese consumption. Japan is the world’s leading importer of marine products, importing twice the value of the United States, the second largest importer of this type of product.

Mining and energy resources

Although Japan has some internal resources, its exploitation is not viable due to its high costs and very strict regulations on environmental pollution. For this reason, mining activity is very low. Coal, copper, zinc, gold, silver and lead deposits are exploited on a very small scale.

Japan imports all of its oil. In 2004, crude oil imports represented 12.32% of the total imported value (www.stat.go.jp).

Japan intends for its dependence on oil to fall from 51.8% in 2000 to 47.7% in 2010. Therefore, it seeks to develop new energy technologies, as well as alternative energy sources and nuclear energy.


Although territorially small, Japan with more than 126 million residents is the eighth most populous country in the world. With an average of 337 residents per square kilometer, it is also one of the most densely populated countries. But since much of the land is not flat enough for houses and roads, some areas are even more dense. Most Japanese live on the east coast, which is highly urbanized, or in the southern region, where most of the Japanese cities are located.

In fact, four out of five people live in large cities or towns. About 26.6% of the Japanese population lives in Tokyo and the surrounding prefectures. The metropolitan areas around the three cities of Tokyo, Osaka and Nagoya are currently the place of residence for about 43.6% of all Japanese.

According to bridgat.com, the Japanese come from various origins. Peoples from mainland Asia mingled with natives from the nearby Japanese and Pacific islands. Contingents of emigrants from China and Korea who came later influenced the language and culture. Each region has its own customs, festivals, popular legends and foods.

For example, people from the Kanto region, which includes Tokyo, often eat natto, a fermented soybean dish, while people from the Kansai region, which includes Osaka, eat it only occasionally. Each region even has a different dialect, with entire words and expressions that change depending on the place.

Japan Economy