Japan is home to many small-scale beekeeping operations, and has a long history of bee keeping. Unlike the US, beekeepers in Japan do not often transport their honeybees long distances, meaning there is less stress that could affect the survival of the insects. There are no genetically modified crops cultivated commercially here. The honeybee shortage this year is noted as there has been a sharp decrease in the number of bees kept by beekeepers. But noone seems to know "why" this is happening. The Mainichi has more details.
It is estimated that over 90 food crops are benefited by honey bee pollination and the value of this service to the United States agriculture was at least 18 billion dollars in 1998, according to Dr. M. (Tom) Sanford in Florida, who also describes how Japanese apple growers first discovered that bees were helpful to increase apple harvest - in the 1930s. Fascinating stuff:
An apple grower, E. Matsuyama in Japan, noticed these small brown bees working his apple blossoms and nesting in nail holes in his wooden house in the 1930's. Soon he made more nail holes in his house, and as the bees multiplied and his apple crop prospered; he switched to cutting sections of hollow reeds for the bees to nest in. Hornfaced bees pollinate a third of Japan's apples, and their use is spreading in North American and China.
From the flowering of the ume (Japanese apricot) trees in February, to the making of soba noodles in November, farmers tend to their land and crops, while the honeybees work alongside them, engaged in their own "farming" as they gather nectar and prepared to propagate. Farming and bee cultivation are strongly linked in the cyclical nature of their enterprises.
Every effort will be needed to make sure that important pollinators like honey bees are thriving.
Treehugger: Honeybee Shortage Worries Farmers In Japan