Still no end in sight at work. I've spent far too much trying to track down a subtle bug that seems to appear only when I run batch - not individual - simulations on the remote cluster. So instead of wasting time here, jump over to "Twisting Flowers" who has a nice summary post about the state of Japanese agriculture.
In short, the agricultural sector is protected by far more, and far higher tariffs than elsewhere. Farming is completely dominated by elderly farmers - at or above pension age - with very few young people coming into the profession, and almost none who aren't born into a farming family already. The total number of farmers in Japan is about 2% of the population.
Not mentioned there, but I have read elsewhere that about 10% of those counting as farmers never actually farm anything; they have a plot of land (often inherited I guess) and membership in the agricultural association. Sizeable amounts of land lie fallow due to these ghost farmers, and due to a lack of people willing and able to work it.
So when you hear that Japan declines a free trade agreement that would greatly help its industrial (13% of the population) and service sectors (65% of the population) out of consideration for the farmers, realize that they are protecting 2% of the population, the majority of whom are already eligible for a pension anyhow. Also, the agricultural industry has modernized so production cost of staple foods like rice is no longer much higher than elsewhere. Open markets would not destroy farming, though it would forced to modernize and consolidate. But then, as the number of farmers keep dropping this is what's happening already.
And in case you wonder why political parties keep favouring the old and the few over the young and the many, all you need to do is look at voting power disparity. Small, rural districts have several times the voting power of large urban areas. That old farmer really is worth four or five Tokyo company workers, as far as political power is concerned. The courts have declared it illegal several times, but the parties keep ignoring it and the courts are powerless to impose any kind of sanctions.
Eventually, of course, the problem will disappear along with the farmers. As old farmers die out and rural areas depopulate they will eventually no longer wield enough voting clout to dictate terms for the rest of the country. The question is how much damage will be done before this happens.