1st Edition

A Business History of Soy Japan’s Modernization and the Rise of Soy as a Global Commodity

By Midori Hiraga Copyright 2025
    172 Pages 27 B/W Illustrations
    by Routledge

    This is a business history of soy that reveals how Japanese imperial and military institutions and financial-mercantile-industrial interests created a role for soy as a versatile raw material and global commodity beginning in the 19th century, even before the Western world recognized this “oilseed.” Originating in the rich food cultures of Asia, soy is praised as the “magic bean.” About 360 million tons is produced in the world today, and it is traded globally to become food, feed, and fuel. It is the second largest source of vegetable oil in the world, and soy meal is an essential feed without which the modern livestock industries could not exist. Its dominance today is often accounted for in terms of its versatile nature. This book, however, argues that soy was transformed into a versatile industrial raw material and global commodity through the political-economic strategies of state and business actors engaged in the development of the capitalist world-economy. By studying little-known Japanese historical documents and corporate records, and focusing on the less-researched vegetable oil and industrial uses of soy, this book provides a better understanding of how this traditional Asian food was transformed into a global commodity embedded in contradictions. Promoted as a healthy and sustainable food source, soy is also a destructive cash crop whose cultivation and use have played a significant role in the current climate crisis. Based on this case of soy, the book provides a structural understanding of broader food and agriculture systems in the history of capitalism, making it of interest to students at an advanced level, academics, and researchers in the fields of business history, corporate governance, Japanese business, as well as the political economy of food and agriculture.


    Ch. 1 Pre-modern history of soy and vegetable oils in Japan

    Ch. 2 Importing Manchurian soy meal as fertilizer (19th century to WWI): Japan’s state-building project and the birth of the modern soy-industry

    Ch. 3 Expanding soy’s versatility in multiple markets (the interwar period): A colonial strategy and a means of business survival

    Ch. 4 Shifting to edible oil and American soy (before, during, and after WWII): From “important war industry” to food industry

    Ch. 5 Increasing Japan’s edible oil consumption (the post-WWII period of rapid economic growth): Soy oil becomes an everyday foodstuff

    Conclusion: Soy and capitalist development


    Midori Hiraga is an Associate Professor in the Faculty of Economics at Kyoto Tachibana University, Japan.