Japan’s population is aging. In 2011, the Japanese Ministry of Health, Labour, and Welfare reported a birth rate of 8.3 births per 1,000 members of the Japanese population. As of October 2012, population estimates indicated that 24 percent of the Japanese population is over the age of 65, whereas only 13 percent is under the age of 14. In the United States, around half of American farmers are between the ages of 45 and 65, while data from the Japanese Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry, and Fisheries suggests at least 46.8 percent of Japanese farmers are 70 or older. Young people have historically been drawn to Japan’s major cities in search of high paying jobs and modern conveniences; however, many of today’s young people are returning to the countryside for a different lifestyle on their families’ farms.
To support these farmers and encourage others, Yusuke Miyaji launched the organization Nouka no Kosegare (Kosegare), which means “farmer’s son” in Japanese. Kosegare connects young people who are originally from different farming families, and encourages them to return to their family homes and start new businesses. Their work is critical at a time when food imports have tripled since the 1960s, now making up around 60 percent of Japanese food. The decline of farming in Japan is partly because of its geography, with three-quarters of the country covered in mountains. As a result, most Japanese farms are small, isolated, and non-competitive in the global market. Farming families have long traditions of working the land, with many farms run by the same family for hundreds of years, and there are still opportunities for young people to sell their products nationally.
Japanese consumers typically value quality over price, and pay close attention to the origin, freshness, and safety of food products. In keeping with this tradition, Kosegare’s founder was able to translate his passion for local, high-quality food into economic success. Having returned to his family’s pig farm from an office job in Tokyo, Miyaji rebranded their products around his fond memories of barbecues as a college student. He promoted his local Japanese products with monthly barbecues, and quickly Miyaji Pork was named the Top Brand in his prefecture, part of the Greater Tokyo Area, with easy access to urban markets.
Today, Kosegare hosts conferences, food tours, and farmers’ markets across the country, supporting the growing number of Japanese young people looking to leave stressful city jobs for new entrepreneurial opportunities back home. More information about Kosegare is available in Japanese on their website and in an animated video about the fulfilling opportunities, struggles, and community that await young family farmers.