Rice, Agriculture, and the Food Supply in Premodern Japan: 1st Edition (Paperback) book cover

Rice, Agriculture, and the Food Supply in Premodern Japan

1st Edition

By Charlotte von Verschuer, Wendy Cobcroft


356 pages | 21 B/W Illus.

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The majority of studies on the agricultural history of Japan have focused on the public administration of land and production, and rice, the principal source of revenue, has received the most attention. However, while this cereal has clearly played a decisive role in the public economy of the Japanese State, it has not had a predominant place in agricultural production. Far from confining its scope to a study of rice growing for tax purposes, this volume looks at the subsistence economy in the plant kingdom as a whole.

This book examines the history of agriculture in premodern Japan from the 8th to the 17th century, dealing with the history of agricultural techniques and food supply of rice, wheat, millet and other grains. Drawing extensively on material from history, literature, archaeology, ethnography and botany, it analyses each of the farming operations from sowing to harvesting, and the customs pertaining to consumption. It also challenges the widespread theory that rice cultivation has been the basis of "Japaneseness" for two millennia and the foundation of Japanese civilization by focusing on the biodiversity and polycultural traditions of Japan. Further, it will play a role in the current dialogue on the future of sustainable agricultural production from the viewpoints of ecology, biodiversity, dietary culture and food security throughout the world as traditional techniques such as crop rotation are explored in connection with the safeguarding of the minerals in the soil.

Surveying agricultural techniques across the centuries and highlighting the dietary diversity of Japan, this book will appeal to students and scholars of Japanese history, the history of science and technology, medieval history, cultural anthropology and agriculture.


"Although the book was previously published in French (in 2003) in somewhat different form (and reviewed in MN 61:3, pp. 407–409), English-language readers are indebted to the Needham Research Institute and Routledge for making this translation available. Its chapters are dense by comparison to the readings to which many of our students are accustomed, but rich in detail, technical explanations, and more that provide great benefit to readers. In an adventuresome analysis such as this, there is much that is subject to further discussion, but Rice, Agriculture, and the Food Supply in Premodern Japan gives scholars a rich intellectual diet on which to chew."

Philip C. Brown, The Ohio State University, Monumenta Nipponica

Table of Contents

Introduction 1. Irrigated rice and dry crops 2. A mountainous environment: shifting cultivation 3. Biodiversity: harvesting of wild plants 4. Food security: how much rice did they eat? 5. Polyculture in premodern Japanese traditions Conclusion

About the Authors

Charlotte von Verschuer is a Professor at the École Pratique des Hautes Études (EPHE), Paris, France. Her research interests focus on agriculture, economics, foreign relations and material culture. Her books include Across the Perilous Sea: Japanese Trade with China and Korea from the Seventh to the Sixteenth Centuries (2006).

Wendy Cobcroft is a translator of premodern Japanese history and literature.

About the Series

Needham Research Institute Series

Joseph Needham's 'Science and Civilisation' series began publication in the 1950s. At first, it was seen as a piece of brilliant but isolated pioneering. However, at the beginning of the twenty-first century, it is clear that Needham's work has succeeded in creating a vibrant new intellectual field in the West. The books in this series cover topics relating broadly to the practice of science, technology and medicine in East Asia, including China, Japan, Korea, and Vietnam. The emphasis is on traditional forms of knowledge and practice, but without excluding modern studies which connect the topics with their historical and cultural context.

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Subject Categories

BISAC Subject Codes/Headings:
HISTORY / Asia / Japan
HISTORY / Medieval
SOCIAL SCIENCE / Anthropology / Cultural
SOCIAL SCIENCE / Ethnic Studies / General