Latecomers' Food Regimes: A Study of Japanese Zaibatsu and Sogo-Shosha Building Agri-Food Complexes Since the First Food Regime in Asian Context

Monday, 16 July 2018: 18:15
Oral Presentation
Midori HIRAGA, Kyoto University, Japan
Japanese sogo-shosha, like Mitsui, Mitsubishi, Itochu, and Marubeni, have dominant power in current food system, and their global strategy target growing Asian food market by sourcing grains and oilseeds from North and South America. Japanese government also encourages agri-food business to expand overseas with "Made WITH Japan" policy. The origin of this structure, however, dates back about a century. History reveals the continuous building of Japan-centered agri-food complexes since the era of the First Food Regime, with strong government support as a latecomer to the capitalist world economy. This paper studies accumulated Japanese research on zaibatsu, sogo-shosha, and corporate history of large food companies, to structure their historical trajectory of complex development for wheat, sugar, and soybean since the First Food Regime. When Japan began modernization in the 19th century, Japan first incorporated into the Atlantic agri-food complexes by importing wheat flour from the US. When Japan occupied Taiwan in 1895, Japanese capital invested in building modern sugar industry from Taiwan sugar cane. When Japan expanded to East Asia, they promoted Manchuria soybean industry and its international trade. Zaibatsu (financial and industrial conglomerates) and their trade sectors (the origins of today's sogo-shosha) were active actors as "government's trader". Japanese government actively promoted their expansion, to accumulate capital among Japanese hands to quickly progress industrial and capitalist development. This historical study of agri-food complexes focusing on corporate actors reveals the continuous development of their power and capital accumulation through the 1st, 2nd and the current food regimes. States involvement and support tend to be stronger as latecomer states try to catch up quickly by using existing large capital. I argue that Japan's historical example can suggest a clearer picture to analyse today's emerging large-scale agri-food business in other Asian and African countries.