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Japan's Dietary Transition and Its Impacts

Japan's Dietary Transition and Its Impacts

Vaclav Smil
Kazuhiko Kobayashi
Copyright Date: 2012
Published by: MIT Press
Pages: 244
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  • Book Info
    Japan's Dietary Transition and Its Impacts
    Book Description:

    In a little more than a century, the Japanese diet has undergone a dramatic transformation. In 1900, a plant-based, near-subsistence diet was prevalent, with virtually no consumption of animal protein. By the beginning of the twenty-first century, Japan's consumption of meat, fish, and dairy had increased markedly (although it remained below that of high-income Western countries). This dietary transition was a key aspect of the modernization that made Japan the world's second largest economic power by the end of the twentieth century, and it has helped Japan achieve an enviable demographic primacy, with the world's highest life expectancy and a population that is generally healthier (and thinner) than that of other modern affluent countries. In this book, Vaclav Smil and Kazuhiko Kobayashi examine Japan's gradual but profound dietary change and investigate its consequences for health, longevity, and the environment. Smil and Kobayashi point out that the gains in the quality of Japan's diet have exacted a price in terms of land use changes, water requirements, and marine resource depletion; and because Japan imports so much of its food, this price is paid globally as well as domestically. The book's systematic analysis of these diverse consequences offers the most detailed account of Japan's dietary transition available in English.

    eISBN: 978-0-262-30538-9
    Subjects: History, Political Science

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Series Foreword
    (pp. vii-viii)

    I am pleased to present the ninth book in the Food, Health, and the Environment series. This series explores the global and local dimensions of food systems and examines issues of access, justice, and environmental and community well-being. It includes books that focus on the way food is grown, processed, manufactured, distributed, sold, and consumed. Among the matters addressed are what foods are available to communities and individuals, how those foods are obtained, and what health and environmental factors are embedded in food system choices and outcomes. The series focuses not only on food security and well-being but also on...

  4. Preface
    (pp. ix-xii)
  5. List of Abbreviations
    (pp. xiii-xiii)
  6. 1 Japanese Diet, 1900–2010: From Subsistence to Affluence
    (pp. 1-5)

    During the 1970s, Junichi Saga began recording the memories of his patients, who were born mostly during the last decade of the nineteenth and the first decade of the twentieth century and lived in, or near, Tsuchiura, in the Lake Kasumigaura region. Almost uniformly, those testimonies depict diets that were at or barely above basic subsistence level, with rice scarce, with high consumption of less preferred barley, and with animal protein almost entirely absent. Here are the recollections of Ihara Orinosuke, born in 1904 (Saga 1987, 187): “In our village a meal of a mixture of rice and barley, with...

  7. 2 Old and New Foodstuffs: A Century of Transitions
    (pp. 7-69)

    There is no shortage of universal, nearly universal, or very common trends that unfolded across the eventful twentieth century. Entries on this list could range from unprecedented growth of populations to no less unprecedented rates of urbanization, from economic integration and globalization to the advances in electronic communication and information, from the spread of democracy to the countertrend of political extremism, and from consumerism and mass affluence to weakened governance and fiscal mismanagement. But it is not very likely that any such list prepared by historians, economists, and students of political and military affairs and technical advances would include a...

  8. 3 Food Consumption: Continuity and Change
    (pp. 71-107)

    Chapter 2 traced the important components of Japan’s diet, from rice to seaweeds, and the long-term changes in supply and per capita consumption. In this chapter we quantify Japan’s twentieth-century dietary transition by examining it from every major nutritional perspective. Although modern dietary transitions share a number of universal traits—declining intakes of staple carbohydrates, rising consumption of animal foods, and a greater variety of available foodstuffs are perhaps the three most notable shifts—they are less amenable to encompassing generalizations as far as the overall food energy supply is concerned.

    In national statistics and international comparisons, this variable is...

  9. 4 Diets and Well-being: Health and Longevity
    (pp. 109-129)

    For many individuals, their genetic inheritance or excessive environmental exposure is the most important factor determining their health and longevity. For the poorest traditional populations, it was impossible to rank their inadequate diets, their dismal living condition, and their extraordinarily hard labor as the most important factors of their poor health and shortened life expectancy. But today nutrition is undoubtedly the principal external factor in maintaining a disease-free quality of life and prolonging a healthy and active life span for large populations that live in (what must be considered in a long-term historical perspective) excellent accommodations, benefit from reasonably well-controlled...

  10. 5 Environmental Impacts: Land, Water, Nitrogen, and Ocean
    (pp. 131-189)

    Agriculture is a clever manipulation of artificial ecosystems in order to maximize their net primary productivity. Some of these agroecosystems are relatively species rich, involving complex rotations of crops, even interplanting, as well as the maintenance of perennial plants in hedgerows or tree groves separating the fields, contributing biodiversity and reducing soil erosion. Other agroecosystems are brutally simplified monocultures, with continuous plantings of a single crop, usually a staple cereal. All of them share the same essential requirements for land, water, macronutrients, and micronutrients; all of them would have their yields lowered by excessive competition from weeds; and most of...

  11. 6 Japanese Diet: Retrospect and Prospect
    (pp. 191-202)

    Fascination of long-term perspectives lies in dynamic combinations of gradual trends, which often unfold in unpredictable ways, and sudden shifts whose power sets entire nations on new historical trajectories. The history of modern Japan is a near-perfect example of this interaction. The five generations of a deliberate, underlying trend of economic, technical, and social modernization, which began with the fall of last Tokugawashōgunin 1867, were punctuated by events that redefined the nation’s future course. None of these were more important than the decision to attack the United States in December 1941 and the resulting military defeat in August...

  12. References
    (pp. 203-224)
  13. Index
    (pp. 225-230)