YEARS of government protection and a ban on imports had so far insulated Japanese rice farmers from foreign competition. Now, however, they face double trouble -- emergency imports of foreign rice by the Japanese government to tide over a shortfall in production. The imports coincide with a decision to allow limited commercial imports in the future as a first step towards an end to the import ban in 1995.
Japanese consumers, meanwhile, are in the grip of what has been dubbed "rice fever". After one of the worst rice harvests since World War II, the country is witnessing a spate of rice thefts and angry housewives are out on the streets.