Japanese warming up to all things Brazilian as World Cup approaches

by Junji Yamaguchi

Kyodo

Interest in food and other items from or associated with Brazil is growing in Japan ahead of the World Cup soccer tournament to be held there next year.

Restaurante Carioca, a Brazilian restaurant in the Aoyama neighborhood in Tokyo associated with former soccer star Ruy Ramos, a naturalized Japanese of Brazilian descent, has for some time been a favorite dining spot for ardent fans of both the sport and Brazilian culture.

Sales have been up 20 percent or so in recent months as a broader range of people flock to the restaurant.

“As the World Cup approaches, Brazil has been frequently featured in media stories, so more and more people appear to be interested in Brazilian food as well,” said Yuichi Osumi, the restaurant’s manager.

As host of next year’s World Cup, Brazil has seen local media attention grow more intense since Japan earned a berth in the tournament.

Business has become so brisk at the restaurant that reservations for one of the 40 seats are now tough to get on weekends.

Its main item is “churrasco,” a grilled meat popular in Latin America, but “mate” a caffeine-rich tea with origins in Brazil and other South American countries, is another example of the growing interest in Latin America. Mate contains so many minerals and fibers that it is sometimes referred to as “liquid salad.”

Last year, imports of mate leaves jumped eighteenfold from the previous year, partly because of the popularity of a bottled mate beverage launched by Coca-Cola (Japan) Co. and tea bag-based products.

T’s Energy, a Tokyo sports gym in the Ryogoku district of Sumida Ward, even serves the tea at its in-house cafe.

Mieko Yokozeki, a nutritionist at the gym, says mate combined with moderate exercise helps people with irregular life patterns lower the risk of developing lifestyle diseases.

The “acai” berry, from a species of palm tree native to the Amazon, is also drawing interest for its presumed health benefits. In February, Calpis Co. started selling Acai Water, a fermented fruit drink containing acai that has proved popular, particularly among women.

Encouraged by its success, Calpis launched a carbonated version in June.

Meanwhile, Sanna’s Co., operator of an online shopping site specializing in Brazilian fashion items, has seen sales of women’s swimsuits climb nearly 20 percent as bold designs and colors with Latin American flair catch on.