Month of Issue

November 2017


The First Food Regime in Asian Context? Japan’s Capitalist Development and the Making of Soybean as a Global Commodity in the 1890s-1930s


Midori Hiraga
Shuji Hisano


Graduate School of Economics, Kyoto University


soybean, food regime, vegetable oil, sogo-shosha, zaibatsu


This paper argues that soybean transformed from traditional Asian food into a global commodity about a century ago with the active contribution from Japan, who was becoming Asian imperial state. With the Food Regime framework, literature research found the rising demand for soy meal to fertilize Japanese modernizing agriculture triggered development of soybean crushing industry in “Manchuria”, Northeast region of China, and its international trade around the Sino-Japanese War (1894-95). The South Manchuria Railway (the colonizing arm of Imperial Japan), special specie banks, trading companies (later sogo-shosha) and Zaibatsu invested crushers, developed Manchuria soybean economy especially after the Russo-Japanese War (1904-05), exporting meal to Japan, and oil to Europe and the US. By the 1930s, Manchuria became the global source of soybean, until WW2 cut its supply and urged the US to develop their soybean production. Conclusion argues this was a case of the First Food Regime in Asian Context.