SENDAI – Wearing a shirt and tie and cruising the streets of Sendai, Takao Hayakawa, a taxi driver from Osato in Miyagi Prefecture, does not look like a part-time farmer.
“I feel like I am a taxi driver rather than a farmer,” the 48-year-old said.
He grows rice on 21 hectares of paddies that he took over from his parents. After graduating from high school, he worked for five years in a warehouse in Sendai before switching to a taxi company.
“If I were with an ordinary company, it would be very hard for me to get days off during the rice-planting and harvesting seasons. But it is convenient for me as a taxi driver to be away from work,” he said.
Part-time farmers like Hayakawa are on the increase in Japan, which is striving to improve its self-sufficiency in food.
According to the Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Ministry, about 80 percent of the 2.3 million households growing food for sale make most of their income from other sectors. And the number of households that derive income mainly from agriculture and have working farmers aged below 65 has decreased 26 percent in the last five years.
Annual revenue for part-time farming households averages 8.5 million yen, surpassing nonfarming households. But from agriculture alone, part-timers’ income averages only 1 million yen.
Hayakawa said his farming revenue is about 40 percent of his total income, a high percentage among part-time farmers.
Analysts say those who receive a small proportion of their income from part-time farming should not lose their identities as farmers.
When Hayakawa was young, he thought the future was bright for agriculture. He said the more farming goods that were produced, the more they sold.
He even considered buying more land to try his hand in the dairy business.
“But that in retrospect was like the asset-inflated bubble era,” he said.
With stagnant rice prices and more cutbacks in paddy acreage, there is little prospect of agricultural income increasing, analysts say.
But despite the difficulty of making a living from farming, prospective farmers are on the rise due to corporate restructuring and an increase in people moving to rural districts.
Hayakawa plans to take a day off on May 5 — the Children’s Day holiday — to plant rice on 13 hectares of paddies, 1 hectare less than last year. He also plans to grow soybeans on six of his remaining 8 hectares of farmland.
The cabby, however, will be the last person in his family to grow rice, as he recommended his son not follow in his footsteps. He said he will find someone else to tend to his paddies.
The younger Hayakawa is a member of the Self-Defense Forces and lives with his wife and child in Shizuoka Prefecture.
“I kept telling him to join the public service ever since he was a kid,” Hayakawa said. “Stability is the best.”
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