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Japan's rice farms rotting from inside despite protectionism

Some older rice farmers blame subsidy system for a now stagnant sector

Ryugasaki, Japan

SHUICHI Yokota may be the future of Japan's struggling rice industry. The 38-year-old is about half the age of most growers and he relies on cutting-edge technology to cultivate vast paddy fields that eclipse the bulk of the country's rice plots.

And Mr Yokota doesn't fear opening up to foreign competition - taboo in a place where rice is a sacred cow that is protected by subsidies and massive tariffs. His farm in Ryugasaki, a community north of Tokyo, has ballooned more than five-fold in 15 years into an operation spanning 112 hectares - almost 30 times bigger than the tiny commercial rice fields commonly found in the area.

"This is simply the consequence of retiring farmers asking...

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