A Tohoku region construction firm has successfully turned about 3 hectares of land into a celebrated locale with ostriches as its centerpiece.

Yasuo Nakazato is president of construction firm Nakazato Kogyo, which manages Shirotori Dacho Mura (White bird Ostrich Village) in Murayama, Yamagata Prefecture. He got interested in the world’s largest living birds, which originate in Africa, five years ago when his company was in a slump amid a sudden drop in public works projects.

With fears of mad cow disease sweeping the nation, Nakazato, 65, read a newspaper report about the potential of ostrich meat.

The Japan Ostrich Council, based in Tokyo, says ostriches are being raised in more than 450 locations across the country from Hokkaido to Okinawa. Nearly 70 percent of breeders are connected to the construction industry and are rearing the flightless birds as a side business.

Hiroaki Toyohara, secretary general of the council, said, “There are many instances of construction companies taking up the challenge of breeding ostriches to supplement their main business because of the reduction in public works projects due to the financial difficulties confronting the central and local governments.”

He said construction companies find it easy to start breeding ostriches because they already have building materials such as metal pipes to set up cages.

Nakazato started by raising 10 young birds through a process of trial and error, feeding them rice crackers and vegetables. He now has 35 ostriches.

“Ostriches are tame, hardy with regard to changes in climate and easy to raise,” he said. “They hate to be alone and never try to run away.”

More than 200 people visited the ostrich village on weekends last July and August. Ice cream made from ostrich eggs and salami made from ostrich meat are specialties of the village and are sold at events both within and outside of Yamagata Prefecture. Also on sale are billfolds made of ostrich leather.

The town of Asahi, Yamagata Prefecture, has offered to let a local construction company use the former site of a high school for grazing land free of charge. The town plans to pitch meat from ostriches fed on apples in the hope that it will help to revive the area.

In an effort to overcome the lack of consumer awareness, the ostrich council is trying to sell ostrich meat to well-known restaurants in Tokyo, and “izakaya” pubs and hotels across the country.

The council has received inquiries from restaurant chains and supermarkets but has declined to enter into negotiations because it cannot ensure adequate supplies.

It said that once substantial amounts of ostrich meat are secured and distribution routes established, “ostrich meat will become more popular.”

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