The working population of the Tōhoku region is made up of approximately 480,000 people in primary industries, 1.3 million in secondary industries, and 3 million in tertiary industries. Tōhoku’s workers in primary industries constitute 15.6% of Japan’s total population in this sector, making the region a pillar of Japan’s agriculture, forestry, and fishing.
Local Specialties in 3 Prefectures Struck by Tsunami
Main Agricultural Products in Disaster Region
In the past, agriculture in Tōhoku was often plagued by poor harvests caused by the cold climate. However, advances in farming techniques and the introduction of sturdier, improved strains have turned the region into the granary of Japan, providing food for tables throughout the country. Cultivatable land in the six prefectures of Tōhoku covers a total area of 872,500 hectares—around 20% of Japan’s total.
According to the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, roughly 30% of Japan’s overall rice production is grown in the six Tōhoku prefectures. In terms of the national ranking for rice production, the top-ranking prefectures in Tōhoku are Fukushima (4th), Miyagi (6th), and Iwate (10th). Work is currently underway to deal with salt damage caused by the tsunami, which swamped wide portions of the plains in Miyagi Prefecture, home to some of Japan’s best rice paddies.
Tōhoku is also a region with extensive vegetable and fruit cultivation. Iwate Prefecture, for instance, is Japan’s third-ranked producer of apples and garlic and is fifth in pear production. Fukushima Prefecture ranks second for peach production, with a 20% share of the national total, and third for Japanese pears. The prefecture also produces substantial harvests of cucumbers, asparagus, Japanese persimmons, and other produce.
Miyagi and Iwate Prefectures are centers for livestock. Both are known for their beef brands, including Iwate’s Maezawa Beef and Tankaku Beef and Miyagi’s Sendai Beef. In Miyagi Prefecture beef tongue is a popular local dish.
A Major Center of Japanese Fishing
The Tōhoku coast marks the meeting place of two important streams: the warm Kuroshio Current (Japan Current) that flows north from the East China Sea into the Sea of Japan, and the cold Oyashio Current (Kuril Current) that travels south from the Kuril Islands. Huge amounts of plankton draw a rich variety of fish species here to feed, making the area one of the best fishing grounds in the world.
Fishing has been a mainstay of the local economy for centuries. The topography of the coast is ideal, with the numerous coastal inlets (“ria”) that stretch from the south of Iwate Prefecture to the north of Miyagi Prefecture making excellent natural harbors. There are 111 fishing harbors in Iwate Prefecture, and 142 in Miyagi Prefecture.
Of particular importance is the port at Ishinomaki, Miyagi Prefecture, which ranks third nationally in terms of the size of its catch. Most years the port vies with Kesennuma, also in Miyagi, for the title of top haul of skipjack tuna. The seas nearby are also rich in cod, mackerel, squid, sardines, salmon, and other fish. In addition to skipjack tuna, the port of Kesennuma is world famous as the center of the shark-fin trade. Much of the port’s shark fin is exported; media in Hong Kong highlighted the damage done to the port extensively in the aftermath of the tsunami. The port of Shiogama, also in Miyagi, was the second-largest producer of bluefin tuna and the first for bigeye tuna, and was in the process of revitalizing itself as the top tuna port in Japan. By May, catches were being landed into these ports again, after work was completed to restore a portion of their facilities.
Iwate Prefecture is one of the leading areas in Japan for the Pacific saury, with fish from the town of Miyako particularly famous. Large quantities of sea squirts, oysters, and abalone are also cultivated in the prefecture.