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International craze over traditional Japanese “washoku” cuisine driving exports

  • 2016-02-03 15:00:00
  • , Mainichi
  • Translation

(Mainichi: February 3, 2016 – p. 4)


 As announced by the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (MAFF) on Feb. 2, the export volume for agricultural, forestry, and fisheries products and foods in 2015 reached 745.2 billion yen (a 21.8% increase over the previous year), thus setting a new record for the third consecutive year. In light of this rise seemingly bolstered by the washoku craze overseas and the depreciation of the yen, the Japanese government is aiming for the early achievement of the target of 1 trillion yen, which had originally been set for 2020.The question going forward will be how well Japan can strengthen the brand development and price competitiveness of core items, such as beef and rice.


 “(Reaching the 700 billion yen level) is a point of passage [on the way to the larger goal]. I want to create a nuts-and-bolts strategy to expand exports,” said Nobuteru Ishihara, the new minister in charge of economic revitalization, at the first meeting of the public-private sector council for strengthening exports, which was held at the Prime Minister’s Office on the afternoon of Feb. 2. He thus called for the further acceleration of exports going forward, in light of the fact that the “700 billion yen” mark, originally set as the interim target to be achieved in 2016 on the way to the ultimate goal of 1 trillion yen, had been achieved one year early.


 Behind the increase in exports is not only the depreciation of the yen but also the washoku craze triggered by the 2013 addition of traditional Japanese “washoku” cuisine to the UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage list. The Japanese government has designated eight items, including rice and processed rice products, fruits and vegetables, and fisheries products, as core items in the export strategy. Of the eight core items, beef and green tea are driving exports as their export volumes each exceeded 10 billion yen for the first time in 2015.


 Beef exports look likely to expand. Wagyu is recognized overseas as high-grade beef and, in some cases, is sold at U.S. supermarkets at three times the price of regular beef from cattle raised locally. However, nowadays a lot of wagyu from foreign-raised cattle is also on the market, and the question is how to set Japan-raised wagyu apart. A Tokyo restaurant providing wagyu to its branches in the United States says, “We need to fully explain the difference between real wagyu and foreign wagyu in terms of taste and quality.” At the end of last year, Kobe beef, which is considered high-quality even among wagyu, was registered in the first round of geographical indication (GI) certifications, a Japanese government certification of quality. Promoting Kobe beef as brand beef will be important going forward.


 Initiatives to expand rice exports are being accelerated. Exports of rice and processed rice products were 20.1 billion yen in 2015, which is below the interim target, and the export figure is a mere 2.2 billion yen, if rice crackers and Japanese sake are excluded. At present, exports center on high-grade varieties, such as Koshihikari brand rice. Many in the industry are saying, “We need to be price competitive to increase exports.” Retail prices at stores in Hong Kong and Singapore are said to be about twice the price of U.S. products. Production costs likely must be lowered by such means as increasing the yield per unit of farmland.


 Taking advantage of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade pact will also be critical. U.S. tariffs on beef and Vietnamese tariffs on fisheries products will be removed. At the press conference held after the cabinet meeting held on Feb. 2, MAFF Minister Hiroshi Moriyama said, “We must have everything in line for the expansion of exports by the time the TPP takes effect.”

 Export targets for core items and achievement rates



2015 Export Volume

Interim Target (achievement rate)

Target for 2020


(achievement rate)

Rice and processed rice products

20.1 billion yen

28.0 billion



60.0 billion yen



Fruits and vegetables

23.5 billion yen

17.0 billion yen



25.0 billion yen




8.2 billion yen

13.5 billion yen



15.0 billion yen



Green tea

10.1 billion yen

10.0 billion yen



15.0 billion yen




11.0 billion yen

11.3 billion yen



25.0 billion yen



Processed foods

225.8 billion yen

230.0 billion yen



500.0 billion yen



Forestry products

27.0 billion yen

19.0 billion yen



25.0 billion yen



Fisheries products

275.7 billion yen

260.0 billion yen



350.0 billion yen



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