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Fish and Rice in the Japanese Diet
By: Yuki Allyson Honjo and Paul J. Scalise

Abstract: This paper analyzes the importance of seafood and rice to the Japanese diet by looking at an array of metrics in both a cross-sectional and time-series format. Data are sourced from the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations, where the annual food balance sheets from 1961-2002 are used. The conclusion is that "rice appears to have given way to other grains (such as wheat) as well as increased intake in meat products. However, fish products appear to have maintained their standing as a constant in the Japanese food supply."
 

Introduction

"Seafood—with rice, the most ‘Japanese food’ of foods—is imbued," wrote anthropologist Theodore C. Bestor, "with all the symbolism of tradition and identity that the Japanese so often lavish on their cultural heritage.” Bestor, of course, was writing on the complexities of a food culture which includes aspirations and ideals as well as the actual intake, but we thought it would be interesting to explore Japan’s food supply nonetheless.

How important is seafood and rice to Japan? We investigated the question by using The Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations (FAO) data on Japan. In particular, we examined Japan’s annual food balance sheets from 1961-2002 (click here to access data.)

Food Balance Sheet

A food balance sheet (also called supply utilization accounts), according to International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA), provides three essential pieces of information: domestic supply, domestic utilization, and per capita values.

The table below outlines Japan’s food balance sheet for 2002, in which we present the key rice and seafood categories.

If we look at the rice category on the table, Japan produced 7.41 million tons of rice in 2002. Japan imported 616 thousand tons, and exported 22 thousand tons. Over all, Japan’s domestic supply of rice was 7.99 million tons.

2002 Domestic supply (1,000 tons)
Products   Imports   Exports Total
Production Stock changes
Grand Total          
Vegetable products          
Animal Products          
Rice 7411 616 -10 22 7994
Fish, Seafood 5484 6395   420 11459
Freshwater Fish  348 449   35 762
Demersal Fish  889 588   16 1461
Pelagic Fish  2364 2958   162 5160
Marine Fish, Other  260 935   95 1099
Crustaceans 192 970   11 1150
Cephalopods  566 224   45 745
Mollusks, Other 866 271   55 1082
Aquatic Products, Other  671 121   1  
Meat, Aquatic Mammals          
Aquatic Animals, Others  37 48     85
Aquatic Plants  634 73   1 706

This supply of rice was used in a number of ways: 95 thousand tons were used to feed animals, 43 thousand tons were used for seed, which 332 thousand tons were processed into non food products, 150 thousand tons were wasted, but the grand majority, 7.36 million tons, were used for food.

2002 Domestic utilization (1,000 tons)
Products Feed Seed   Waste   Food
Processing Other uses
Grand Total            
Vegetable products            
Animal Products            
Rice 98 43 332 150 16 7355
Fish, Seafood 3139   -140   12 8449
Freshwater Fish          12 750
Demersal Fish  0   -140     1601
Pelagic Fish  3139         2021
Marine Fish, Other            1099
Crustaceans           1150
Cephalopods            745
Mollusks, Other           1082
Aquatic Products, Other  174       375 242
Meat, Aquatic Mammals            
Aquatic Animals, Others          34 51
Aquatic Plants  174       341 191

If we take this total food figure and divide by the total population (127.5 million) we can arrive at an estimate of how much supply is available to each member of the population. In the case of rice, this is equivalent to 57.7 kg per year per person. If we translate that to nutritional values on a daily basis, this is 618 calories per day from rice, and provides 11g or protein, and 1.4 g of fat per day. This is not the same as the actual amount consumed. Information on food consumption is collected in surveys of household consumption or expenditure. However, these data are not directly comparable, due to the difference in definition and in error calculations (http://www.eldis.org/static/DOC6419.htm).

 Japan Population:             127,478,000
2002 Per capita supply
         
Products Kg/year kcal Protein Fat
Grand Total   2761 91.8 84.6
Vegetable products   2189 39.9 49.9
Animal Products   572 51.8 34.8
Rice 57.7 618 11 1.4
Fish, Seafood 66.3 173 23.4 7.6
Freshwater Fish  5.9 15 2.2 0.06
Demersal Fish  12.6 55 5 3.7
Pelagic Fish  15.9 58 8.3 2.4
Marine Fish, Other  8.6 20 3.1 0.6
Crustaceans 9 9 1.9 0.1
Cephalopods  5.8 13 2.4 0.2
Mollusks, Other 8.5 3 0.5 0
Aquatic Products, Other  1.9 2 0.2 0
Meat, Aquatic Mammals        
Aquatic Animals, Others  0.4 0 0 0
Aquatic Plants  1.5 2 0.2 0

The same analysis can be repeated for other food items: above, we include a breakdown of sea food and fish related food stuffs. In the case of fish products, the seed category would not apply, as fish are not planted.

As of 2002, Japan had 2761 calories per person available to each member of the population. This figure is not the same as the amount of calories actually consumed by each person: the 2761 calorie figure is a reflection of the amount of calories available to people on the market as food—spoilage, cooking losses, plate waste, for example, are not accounted for in this figure.

Rice and Fish

How has the rice and seafood supply changed in Japan? It is clear from the charts below that rice is losing its place as a caloric pillar of Japanese food culture. Fish and seafood, however, appears to be maintaining their place.

Clearly, as Figure 1 illustrates, there were a number of changes in the Japanese food supply: in 1961, 90% of the caloric supply per capita per day consisted of 90% vegetable products, and 10% animal products. In 2002, the ratio changed to 79% vegetable products, and 21% animal products. Rice appears to have given way to other grains (such as wheat) as well as increased intake in meat products. However, fish products appear to have maintained their standing as a constant in the Japanese food supply.

While the daily total calorie supply increased through much of the 1960s, it then stabilized, and then rose again in the 1980s. The supply of calories from rice declined from over to 1000 calories per capita in the early 1960s, and then declined to 618 calories per person. Calories from fish rose, and then largely stabilized. Fish accounted for just over 173 calories of per capita calorie supply in 2002, rising from 112 calories per capita in 1961.

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As a percentage of per capita calorie supply, Figure 2 shows that the importance of rice has clearly declined from close to 50% of daily Japanese calorie supply to just over 20% in 2002. Fish, again, appears to be maintaining its place.

percent of total per capita calorie supply

Figure 3 looks at the volume per capita per year. While fice declined from 110kg per person per year to 58 kg, fish rose from 48kg per capita, peaking at just under 73 kg per capita and settling between 65-67kg per capita from 1997 onwards.

% of total per capita calorie supply

Interestingly, food caloric supply and volume does not appear to be obviously influenced by economic trends (price is not reflected in this data). The economic conditions of the economic “bubble” and its subsequent implosion do not appear be reflected in the fish, rice, or total supply data.

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