Hokkaido women prove you don’t need to marry a farmer to become one

by Sayaka Watanabe

Kyodo

Aspiring female farmers have traditionally had only two routes into the business in Japan — being born into a farming family or marrying a farmer.

The country’s male-dominated society has ingrained barriers that make it difficult for women to lease farmland or obtain a loan to purchase a farm.

Two young hopefuls are defying this. Haruna Takano, 25, and Eri Sawai, 26, who attended an agricultural university together, will open their own farm this spring with the help of supporters.

Takano and Sawai will set up the five-hectare arable Tokachi Girls Farm in Obihiro, Hokkaido. They raised cash to cover the lease of their land from crowd-funding.

Takano, who is from Hokkaido’s Tomakomai, and Sawai, a native of Mashiko, Tochigi Prefecture, attended Rakuno Gakuen University, a private university in Hokkaido’s Ebetsu.

They both dreamed of running their own farm and after graduation they learned the ropes in the business while working at separate farms in Obihiro.

“When young women want to work in agriculture, they tend to be encouraged to marry into a farming family,” Takano said.

Sawai added, it is difficult for young women to lease farmland because “people think we will quit after marriage.”

The two obtained support from an agricultural corporation set up by Agri-Fashion, a farming apparel store in Obihiro.

Tsuneo Hashizume, the corporation’s 43-year-old president, said he hopes Tokachi Girls Farm will prove that women need not marry a farmer to become one.

Takano and Sawai plan to grow corn, potatoes and asparagus. They will share part of the harvest with crowd-funding investors who help them to cover the annual ¥500,000 lease of the land.

They will try to raise money in other ways, too, including running a mobile kitchen and letting tourists try their hand as farmers.

They believe the business will work, and say in time they may be in a position to hire more female workers.

Takano and Sawai said what they have received is a “rare opportunity” — and they won’t let down their supporters.