Small Farms, Big Cities

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This video program features two case studies on Japan: Northern Japan: Protecting the Harvest and Tokyo: Anatomy of a Mega-City.

Viewed together, the case studies highlight a modern paradox in Japan, the coexistence of both the mega-city of Tokyo and small-scale agriculture. A farmer's story in the first case study illustrates climatic conditions in Tohoku, or Northeast Japan, and the influence of natural hazards upon agricultural productivity. In the second case study, a commuter from Saitama provides insight into the continued growth of one of the world's largest metropolitan areas.

As shown in Northern Japan: Protecting the Harvest, rice, the staple of the Japanese diet, has played a critical role throughout history in the culture as well as the contemporary politics and economy of Japan. The first case study illustrates wet-rice production on the northeastern edge of the main island of Honshu. In this marginal area, winter finally ends in May and signals the time to transplant rice plants that have been forced to sprout in hot houses. The seedlings grow in fields of standing water, exposed to seasonal weather changes. To overcome the adverse climatic factors affecting rice production, a farmer requires advanced technology (for agricultural machinery and for predicting weather patterns) as well as intensive labor.

A farmer from the village of Rokunohe manages his crop based upon seasonal conditions, irrigation and drainage needs, transplantation, and harvest. The farmer's worst fear in northeastern Japan is yamase, a dense fog accompanied by cold, east winds that can cause heavy damage to rice crops. The program shows the atmospheric conditions responsible for creating this adverse weather and illustrates how modern research is aiding agriculture in this part of Japan. The final section of the case study provides insight into Japanese agriculture as the labor force declines in this sector. Instead of farming, many residents are taking advantage of higher-paying opportunities now available in rural areas.

Updates to this case study include further discussion of the interaction of agricultural geography and economic geography, interviews with geographer Dr. Gil Latz, and insight into the future of rice farming in Japan.

Tokyo: Anatomy of a Mega-City reviews how the transportation system has contributed to urban growth in Tokyo and the implications for the future. With a metropolitan population of over 30 million, Tokyo functions well despite its size in part because of the efficient transportation system. To show the city's immense transportation infrastructure, the case study examines Otemachi, the largest subway station in Tokyo. The station serves commuters who travel to work in Tokyo from outlying areas because of high land costs and a lack of affordable housing in the city. With over one million people working in the area of the station, most of them commuters, the Otemachi area has two populations - daytime and nighttime.

Tokyo's role in Japan is unique, serving as Japan's capital and largest city. With one out of four Japanese residing there, most of Japan's economic, political, and legal activities are concentrated within its metropolitan borders. Despite the city's large population, it continues to grow and prosper. This expansion is only able to take place because it is supported by a comprehensive transportation network. Covering a land area only slightly larger than Chicago, the city functions with three times Chicago's population density. Tokyo's role is as one of the great cities of the world, a key player in the world economy, and a forerunner in the process of globalization. 

Updates to this case study include new satellite maps of the Tokyo metropolitan area and the continuing megalopolis to the south and west, discussion of the effects of Japan's economic stagnation and the Asian economic crisis of 1997, and interviews with geographer Dr. Jonathan Taylor.

Find additional resources, including primary source materials, interactives, and downloadable print materials, at:

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