NAGO, OKINAWA PREF. – While Japan mostly depends on imports for its coffee consumption, farmers in Okinawa are trying to popularize homegrown coffee.
Local farmers established a producers association in 2014, hoping to make coffee beans a new signature agricultural product of the island prefecture. The association is set to market Okinawa coffee beans in Tokyo, and hopes to leverage them to attract tourists.
Coffee beans are mainly grown in areas near the equator. Japan imports them from over 40 countries. In Okinawa, coffee production, which requires a particular natural environment with adequate sunlight and temperatures, started about 100 years ago. But growing coffee beans stably is difficult in Okinawa, which is prone to typhoons. Introducing a greenhouse system, Naomasa Miyazato, 67, head of the association, harvested some 80 kilograms of coffee beans in 2017. A cup of homegrown coffee costs ¥700 at the association’s office in the city of Okinawa. Its mild and sweet taste has won positive reviews.
“We aim to promote a branding strategy for Okinawa coffee in a bid to revive agriculture in the prefecture and make coffee production a key local industry,” Miyazato said. Beginning this month, coffee beans from Miyazato will be sold at ¥1,620 per 50 grams at major department store operator Isetan Mitsukoshi Holdings Ltd.’s flagship Isetan outlet in Tokyo’s Shinjuku district.
An official at a distribution agency said, “We hope to spread information about Okinawan coffee as part of our support.”
Due to intense price competition with imports, it is no easy job to make coffee production in Okinawa Prefecture profitable.
A coffee farm in the Okinawan village of Higashi has started a program to provide tourists with an opportunity to experience coffee bean picking.
“We thought we could pave the way by linking coffee production with tourism,” said Takuyuki Matayoshi, the 31-year-old head of the farm.
“I’m still trying to figure out whether I can stand on my own feet with coffee production,” Matayoshi said. “We need to open a path that allows coming generations to see a bright future for Okinawa coffee,” he added.