The sudden growth that in a few decades brought Japan, first among non-Western states, to the rank of modern world economic power was the result of various dynamics. The process was partly fortuitously triggered by the Western powers themselves with their pressure to open the Japan to international trade, which caused the explosion of the internal crisis of the Japanese feudal society, already subjected to very strong tensions for some time. The next phase of development was guided by the policy of the Meiji government, which promoted industrialization starting from strategic sectors, modernized the army and navy and above all encouraged the merchant-banking class to engage in industry. Military expansionism ended with the defeat of 1945, which seemed to many having to to mark the end of the Japan, in the following decade the ‘second Japanese miracle’ began, and the economy managed not only to recover, but in less than twenty years to become the second in the world after the United States (or the third, having been, at the beginning of the new millennium, surpassed by that of China if we calculate the gross domestic product at purchasing power parity). The growth rate of the gross domestic product, after peaks of 18% per annum, has then considerably reduced, especially from the end of the 1980s to the early years of the 21st century; then, after a momentary recovery, the effect of the unexpected increase in domestic consumption to a level that had never been experienced before, it precipitated as a result of international economic events, so that the Japan closed the 2008-09 fiscal year with a GDP down by 3.5%.
Agriculture now affects only 14% of the territory (the already scarce arable area has been partly destined for other uses), employs 4.6% of the workforce (despite the aid policy and duties on competing imports) and it contributes just 1.5% to the formation of the gross domestic product. In 1946 the US occupiers imposed an agrarian reform that canceled the large properties and favored the traditional tendency to land fragmentation, due to the scarcity of arable land and the high population density that in the last two centuries had already led to the agricultural colonization of marginal areas of the two major islands. Japanese governments have always paid attention to agriculture, even with the establishment of a bank to assist the sector, the foundation agricultural schools, support for cooperative organizations, the provision of financial aid to farmers to discourage abandonment of the countryside. Japan is divided into two large agricultural regions: the first includes the central-southern part of the island of Honshu and the islands of Kyushu and Shikoku, and is characterized by the clear predominance of rice growing, which are flanked by the central areas of Honshu close to the megalopolis, more profitable crops, mainly vegetables and fruit trees; the second is formed by the territories of more recent agricultural development of Hokkaido and the northern part of Honshu, where climatic conditions have limited the cultivation of rice and favored those of other cereals, potatoes and apple trees and, especially in Hokkaido, the use of soil for meadows and pastures. Rice has always been the main product, in terms of cultural importance and diffusion (in the early 21st century it occupied over 30% of the agricultural surface), however its production is gradually decreasing (from 16.3 million t in 1978 at 13.1 in 1990 and at 10.6 in 2006), despite the fact that national agricultural policies have tenaciously pursued the goal of self-sufficiency; more pronounced was the decline of other cereals, sacrificed to the competition of imports from North America together with other crops such as soybean and rapeseed. On the contrary, intensive horticulture is progressing, concentrated in peri-urban areas and characterized by very high investments and yields.
Since the last decade of the twentieth century, breeding has suffered a reduction in the number of animals, but at the same time has been affected by an increase in investments to improve its quality; this reduction mainly concerns cattle, while the decrease in the number of pigs and poultry is modest. Sericulture remains important, for which Japan remains one of the first producers.
According to Paradisdachat, the importance of fishing has undergone a drastic decline in the last decade of the 20th century: from 11.9 million t (12% of the world total) in 1989 to the current 5.3 million (4%), which is however, a phase of adjustment followed which in fact extended the field of action of the Japanese fishing fleet to all the seas of the globe; Algae, Crustaceans and Molluscs have great importance in the composition of the catch, for which Japan is preceded only by China. The controversy over the hunting of cetaceans should be remembered: the capture for commercial purposes for conservation purposes was banned internationally in 1986, the Japanese whaling fleet continued to operate, with declared scientific research purposes, and with progressively increasing volumes (from 273 heads in 1987 to 15,318 in 2006).