Japan's Dietary Transition and Its Impacts
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 21st century, Japan’s consumption of meat, fish, and dairy had increased markedly (although it remained below that of high-income Western countries).
In their book, “Japan’s Dietary Transition and Its Impacts,” authors Vaclav Smil and Kazuhiko Kobayashi examine how 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 20th century. They look at how 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.
The book examines 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.
About the Authors
Vaclav Smil was Distinguished Professor at the University of Manitoba until 2011. He is the author of many books, including, most recently, “Prime Movers of Globalization: The History and Impact of Diesel Engines and Gas Turbines” (MIT Press, 2010). In 2010 he was named by Foreign Policy as one of the Top 100 Global Thinkers.
Kazuhiko Kobayashi is Professor at the Graduate School of Agriculture and Life Sciences at the University of Tokyo and has worked on the atmospheric change impacts on food production.