I have recently returned from a trip to Japan with family members, where we spent time rekindling friendships with two farming families, friendships with our family that commenced 50 years ago, when as young Japanese farm cadets Nishi and Hatsuo each spent a year working for our parents in Putaruru in the 1960s. Both men went home, armed with kiwi know how, wire strainers, an electric fence unit, second hand milking plant and a copy of Dr McMeekan’s “Grass to Milk”, to expand and diversify their family farms.
Nishi family farm was then a 16 ha dairy and cropping farm in the Tokachi region of Hokkaido, Japan’s northern island. Tokachi is a more recently developed farming area, Nishi’s father took up his property after serving in World War II. Nishi returned home to increase the milking herd to 40 cows and try to implement NZ style pasture based grazing systems. With long Winters, snow on the ground for up to 5 months of the year, this proved difficult.
Today the farm is a 50 ha intensively cropped property growing wheat, buck wheat, potatoes and soya beans. Nishi, at 74, still lives on the farm, with his wife Junko, in very modern home they built 13 years ago. They are proud to see their daughter, son in law, & 21-year-old grandson farming the family property. Nishi has recently relinquished his job as Mayor of his town, Toyokoro (population 4000). This elected role oversaw the employment of 100 people involved in the administration of education, health and community services for this town and surrounding area.
In Hatsuo case, the family farm in 1968 was a 2.5 ha rice farm near Toyama, 450 Km west of Tokyo, today 2 hours by bullet train. This land had been in his family for 250 years. Today it is a profitable and fully mechanised 8 ha rice farm, which is also rearing and finishing Wagyu beef, in a fully housed environment. He had previously had a small dairy herd, sought after Wagyu beef is now more profitable than dairy products. At nearly 70 years of age Hatsuo believes he will phase out his beef over the next couple of years, no mention of stepping back from growing rice. With his good health, in Japanese terms he still has many years farming left.
Family values and traditions remain as strong today as they would have been a century ago. 4 generations live in the recently modernised large family home. Together with Hatsuo, and his wife Eiko, live his parents, in their late 80s and still looking after a large tradition Japanese garden. Hatsuo’s son, Tokashi, an Engineer, working internationally, and his wife and 3 children also live in part of the home. Tokashi admits he has no great interest in farming rice although strongly recognises the 300 years and the many generations that have gone before him.
I have no doubt Hatsuo’s family will find a solution to ensure the continued efficient farming of this property.
To me some the striking observations from these families and my time in Japan were:
• Enduring family values that provide the support for families to pass businesses and farms from generation to generation.
• Farming businesses prepared to adapt and change systems as technology and the markets for produce change.
• A very healthy senior population actively contributing to businesses in meaningful ways.
Longevity of life in Japan is well recognised phenomena. Anyone approaching, or in their “senior” years will take heart from this video clip.