Yesterday (the 10th), in order to obtain some insights into the revitalization of agriculture, I observed agricultural areas in Gunma Prefecture where people are engaged in leading-edge efforts such as the production of premium brand rice and the operation of direct-sales storefronts. Under the penetrating clear autumn sky, I was able to feel the fruitful nature of autumn throughout my entire being.
As I stated during the DPJ Presidential election as well, both of my parents were born to farming families. My father was the youngest of 6 siblings in a farming family in Toyama Prefecture, while my mother was the youngest of 11 siblings in Chiba Prefecture. My mother was often pulled into helping out with the farming work, and I understand that while I was still nursing I slept rocking in a bamboo basket, off to one side of the farmwork. Upon smelling the soil of the fields I felt that memory of my very early childhood being conjured up. I take pride in the fact that in that sense, my own roots can also be said to be found in agriculture.
I drove a combine and tried my hand at harvesting. The character for "rice" in Japanese is written by combining the characters also used to write the word "eighty-eight," and it is said that growing rice requires '88 stages' of toil, just as the character depicts. Even in this age in which we use machines for harvesting, rice, which is painstakingly harvested, is nothing other than the crystallization of the hard work of farmers all throughout the year.
The agricultural plaza in Kawaba village has set up a direct-sales location for just-harvested rice and vegetables as well as dairy products, sweets, and the like. By putting into practice a combination of "agriculture + tourism," the village is a great success, attracting more than a million people annually. Yesterday, one day of a sunny three-day weekend, was also bustling. I saw a great many people gathered along with their small children, and the parking lot was full with cars from outside Gunma Prefecture. Although I understand that the catalyst for that was the fact that a sister-city relationship was established with Setagaya ward in Tokyo, I was moved by the fact that such tremendous energy would come about by "urban consumers" interacting directly with and linking up with "abundantly enthusiastic producers."
I myself also purchased some premium brand Yukihotaka rice, which is the pride of the village, along with some apples, grapes, eggplant, and other items and brought these back to my wife at the official residence, and she was extremely pleased at this.
During this visit, I heard about various aspects of the current state of agriculture, ranging from the quite daring stories of creating new value through various means, one after the other, including through making the rice into a premium brand and selling locally-produced beer to the United States, to very deep-seated concerns about the sense of uncertainty towards the future and the lack of successors to the businesses.
The impression that stayed with me above all was the dignified figure of a young farmer 37 years old who grows rice and konnyaku, who enthusiastically exclaimed, "I want to make this village the best in all Japan!" How many young people saying such things with such a serious manner would we find if we looked all throughout Japan, I wonder. It was a moment in which I felt certain that great potential would surely open up in Japan's agricultural industries if we were to have even one more of these admirable business people in each local area in Japan, pulling forward regional agriculture with confidence and pride in their work.
Within this month, I intend to formulate a concrete action plan on the basis of the midterm proposal for the revival of the food and agriculture industries in Japan that was compiled in August. In what ways can the national government assist in order to revitalize agriculture and transform it into a growth industry? I will put forward a definite vision as a nation so that the people who will be responsible for the future can engage in agriculture enjoying both big dreams and peace of mind.