Please view the main text area of the page by skipping the main menu.

Japan gov't tries to smooth over ex-PM Aso's 'Rice tastier due to global warming' gaffe

Liberal Democratic Party vice president Taro Aso, center, makes a street speech in Hokkaido on Oct. 25, 2021. (Mainichi/Yui Takahashi)

TOKYO -- The Japanese government and the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) are in damage control after party vice president and former Prime Minister Taro Aso said rice from Hokkaido is now tastier thanks to global warming.

    Aso's comment, made during an Oct. 25 campaign speech for an LDP House of Representatives election candidate in Hokkaido, triggered a backlash, primarily from people in the farming sector in Japan's northernmost prefecture.

    The deputy prime minister and finance minister told a crowd that Hokkaido rice used to be of low quality but is now very tasty, "because of higher temperatures. Only bad aspects are written about (global) warming, but there's something good." He also stated that rice farmers' efforts had nothing to do with the improved rice quality.

    However, this is far from reality, according to the Hokkaido Prefectural Government and other sources. Several decades of continuous effort to develop and improve rice breeds suitable for the prefecture's harsh climate have made it one of Japan's major rice production areas. Brand-name rice varieties have been developed one after another, such as "Kirara 397," which debuted in 1988, "Nanatsuboshi" and "Yumepirika."

    As of Sept. 25, the rice farming areas in Hokkaido for 2021 production spanned a total of 103,300 hectares, with a projected yield for food use of as much as 526,000 metric tons -- both figures second in the country only to Niigata Prefecture, a traditional rice production powerhouse on the Sea of Japan coast.

    Hokkaido Farmer's Union commissioner Akiyoshi Okubo issued a protest on Oct. 26, stating, "Rice in Hokkaido has gained a good reputation nationally because of the entire prefecture's efforts to keep improving rice breeds, with the unified cooperation of the government, private sector and farmers. His (Aso's) remark diminishing producers' efforts and techniques cannot be tolerated."

    Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno, the Japanese government's top spokesperson, tried to dodge the furor, telling an Oct. 26 news conference, "I'd like to withhold comment." Agriculture minister Genjiro Kaneko also attempted to fend off questions at a post-Cabinet meeting press conference. After being questioned by reporters, he eventually said, "It's all thanks to farmers' efforts. The situation today is a result of their efforts to make varieties suitable for the climate, rather than the climate itself," effectively correcting Aso's comment.

    So, how much does climate change affect rice quality?

    Hidehiko Tanaka, crop science professor at Takushoku University Hokkaido College, said, "To produce rice grains, temperatures need to reach a certain level within 40 days after rice stalks emerge. Higher temperatures partly contribute to crop yield and quality." At the same time, he suggested that Aso's remark was inaccurate, saying, "An accumulation of factors such as breed improvements and farmers' efforts is the foundation of producing good-tasting rice."

    (Japanese original by Taiki Asakawa, Business News Department)

    Also in The Mainichi

    The Mainichi on social media