Japanese exports of farm and marine products are growing on an unprecedented scale, thanks in part to the expanded use of refrigerated delivery services, which ensure that fresh foods are delivered promptly and at their seasonal best.
The trend is only likely to gather momentum given the growing popularity and higher profile of Japanese cuisine due to its listing in 2013 as a UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage and as more overseas tourists visit Japan and acquire a taste for local dishes.
A recent report by the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries indicated that the value of Japan’s farm, forestry and marine product exports is certain to hit a record high.
It said the preliminary value of the country’s exports between January and October was ¥602.9 billion, up 23.2 percent from the year before, putting it on track to eclipse the previous record of ¥611.7 billion set in 2014.
With demand for Japanese products growing, Yamato Transport Co., the top-ranked door-to-door parcel delivery service provider, hopes its service offering temperature and humidity control will help boost food exports.
“We hope to play a role in enhancing competitiveness among Japanese producers and expanding their business scope,” said Katsuhiko Umetsu, head of Yamato’s global business division.
Since beginning a chilled delivery service to Hong Kong in October 2013, Yamato’s service has expanded to cover Singapore and Taiwan. The fastest deliveries arrive the following day.
“Japanese people put great emphasis on shun — when farm and marine products are at their seasonal best. Producers want their products to be consumed at the prime season and we want to respond to that request through our chilled delivery service,” said Umetsu.
Beginning last year, Yamato signed agreements with Miyazaki, Kumamoto, Ehime and Aomori prefectures to help local government efforts to accelerate exports of local farm and marine products and expand their sales network.
Under the agreements, Yamato will also help with documentation, and quarantine and customs procedures, while allowing producers the convenience to send all their produce in one package.
“With the widespread use of e-commerce, the voices of consumers will become much more important,” Umetsu said. These growing voices of consumers may eventually lead to bigger business, such as from restaurants, Yamato said.
Masahito Kawano, who has operated the Genki Ippai izakaya (pub) in Hong Kong for nearly 15 years, said he imported Japanese fish, beef, as well as vegetables and seaweed only grown in Japan such as mitsuba (Japanese parsley).
“I depend on imports from Japan as some foods here are not as tasty, fresh or high quality as those in Japan,” said Kawano. “Vegetables and meat grown with Japanese technology are really very good. They are popular with the local people here, and I want to further promote Japanese foods.”
An attractive feature of Japanese produce is the huge variety, with each of the 47 prefectures having its own regional characteristics. For instance, there are at least 13 kinds of strawberries across five prefectures, according to the Agriculture & Livestock Industries Corp.
Japan Post Co., a mail delivery unit of state-owned Japan Post Holdings Co., has also started overseas deliveries of chilled and frozen foods.
Demand for such services could also grow after Japan, the United States and 10 other countries in October reached a broad agreement on a free trade deal.
While the Trans-Pacific Partnership could mean Japan will be flooded with cheap farm products from abroad, further weakening Japan’s agriculture sector by exposing it to tougher competition, some view this as a good opportunity to strengthen the sector by expanding exports.
Akkeshi fisheries cooperative in Akkeshi in Hokkaido hopes to increase exports of its famous oysters and hair crabs following the TPP agreement.
From November, the cooperative started a new service to deliver its marine products directly to people’s homes overseas.