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Japan's farmers eye export push, unfazed by TPP

41 Comments
By Kaori Kaneko

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Well, they managed to find one fan for the article, and I have no doubt there are other nouveau-riche, potential customers throughout Asia who will pay over the odds for blemish-free, extravagantly-packaged peaches and melons. Good luck to them. The trouble is, I doubt if Mr Furuya has much knowledge of the excellence of fruit from other places in the world. There is always such an arrogance about the quality of anything grown in Japan that blinds the producers to reality.

16 ( +20 / -5 )

Moonraker,

Totally agree.

Furuya is in a dream, as is Abe who says there is a huge market for Hokkaido melons and Tohoku apples.

Furuya only knows small segments of the world market and I'd be willing to bet that Abe has never been grocery shopping in his life.

12 ( +15 / -4 )

Given that many consumers worldwide are willing to overpay (in my opinion) for bags, T-shirts or eyeglasses just because those products have a brand name stamped on them, I say good on the Japanese farmers who recognize there are niche markets overseas willing to overpay (in my opinion) for Japanese-branded produce.

Send the high priced stuff abroad, bring in more reasonably priced food for people who don’t get too fussed if the produce they buy doesn’t look perfect.

5 ( +7 / -2 )

Sure there is a "huge" market, the Japanese living overseas. BUT what's more important is that at least there are producers looking to improve their businesses, have to give him credit for it.

Betrtie you are against the TPP but when a producer is looking at the benefits of how he can make more money you complain that Japan's products are not going to make it on the world market. Yet you claim they are the "best" as well.

Kind of hypocritical here.

6 ( +8 / -2 )

I completely agree with Moonraker and BertieWooster above.

As for the article:

“I think the excellence of Japanese fruits still has not been fully recognised in the world,” said Furuya

Once again, this guy is completely deluded about the situation (as with pretty much all the other growers/farmers). Japanese produce is high quality - nobody denies that. But it's not the literal fruit of the Gods as this guy seems to think it is - it's just good produce, being sold for ridiculous prices, WAY more than near-equally good produce from any number of other countries. That sort of horseplay might work in Japan where the average consumer somehow buys into the spin, but not in the rest of the world. That's your reason, buddy, not because the rest of the world "doesn't fully recognize the excellence of Japanese fruit". Classic insulated Japanese arrogance.

8 ( +11 / -3 )

There is a growing demand for Japanese produce overseas, it's not a pipe dream. Chinese don't trust Chinese produce, so Hong Kong is one key market. The quality control of Japanese fruit simply is superior for the most part.

After the yen crashes, the market may really take off for these guys.

7 ( +8 / -1 )

Japanese produce, on the whole, is grossly overpriced, let's not disagree about that truth. Whether you choose to pay through the nose for it is another thing. As for the woman in Hong Kong who prefers to spend most ordinary people's two-hour's pay for a pound of grapes, well, there's always a fool with too much money, or, as the old saying goes, more dollars than sense. And if you think I'm wrong, I just bought two pounds (one kilo) of red California grapes for $3.97, and the same amount of green grapes from Chile for the same price (and I don't peel them before eating). Sheesh, wake up Japanese consumers! Buying food isn't meant to put you into debt, it's meant to keep you alive.

4 ( +8 / -4 )

There is definitely a certain boutique niche market encompassing those in the top 10% income bracket worldwide for ultra-high-priced luxury fruits and other foods. Many in that segment will pay top yuan/dollar/euro for a brand name, exquisitely packaged Yubari melon or plump Japanese grapes, particularly the nouveau rich across Asia.

Still, much of this talk by farmers like Furuya are obviously an attempt to put a positive spin on unfavorable hand they have been dealt by the TPP. Clearly, one big sticking point in terms of selling the luxury Japan food brand is overcoming the damage Fukushima has done to the Japan food brand's reputation. Even growers and producers in Japan far from Fukushima are tainted by the no longer impeccable image of Japanese food standards.

-1 ( +2 / -3 )

Mrs Kaneko, it seems you've been covering the TPP since Japan joined the talks way back when. I'm not sure if you have any politics but I'm sure many would benefit if you could investigate the" WHY" about "Japan’s high-cost farmers"? I'm particularly interested in JA, but also the major supermarkets as well. The JA farmers market is much cheaper than FujiGrand understandably, and it's usually local produce, and packed. I's the reason for the high prices because the major supermarkets charge a lot more for produce to make up for the high land cost and taxes? Not sure. The stores always have Broccoli but why is it ¥3-400 one week, and ¥2-300 weeks later? Is this just a supply issue, or is their some kind of JA manipulation going on? How about a book Kaori?

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Can't wait to see affordable fruit in Japan. In Engeland i ate a lot of fruit daily, also this should be the end of season fruit.

5 ( +6 / -1 )

while normally I would say that this guy will be run out of business with cheaper imports, he does have a point that higher priced niche market fruit will survive. But it will hardly be supported on the scale beyond a lucky few.

This article misses the point that by the time China is ready for TPP of its own, the current TPP would have decimated the producers long before then

2 ( +5 / -3 )

@fizzbit

So far as broccoli (and all produce to some degree), it's a supply issue. When the weather is bad, the supply and quality falls, and the price goes up. If you are one of the lucky farmers to have decent product, you make a killing.

The consumer pays more for a lower quality product.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

@commentator

I get that, thanks. I just wonder if there's a guy up on the top floor of the JA office plotting out which prefecture is going to have "bad weather" every month. lol

0 ( +1 / -1 )

Since broccoli is mostly imported, no. For other stuff, JA has will destroy produce if the prices drop too far. But that's not uncommon elsewhere either.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Moonraker: "There is always such an arrogance about the quality of anything grown in Japan that blinds the producers to reality."

Exactly! and the capital of that arrogance is Kyoto, where anything made with "Kyo-yasai" is "Kyo Ryouri" and superior to all other 'cuisine'. A woman I know who likes to talk about cooking with me asked the other day what I had for lunch and I said "Kyou-ryouri". She's from Kyoto originally so she smiled and asked me what dishes, and where. I listed off a few of the things I made and told them I made them myself and she immediately frowned, saying it's not Kyou-ryouri. It's all a mind-frame, and not at all based on actual quality or anything special aside from the arrogance you mentioned.

If these guys are FINALLY getting off their butts and realizing that they can export and start being competitive instead of hiding behind the government, then the TPP is already doing its job. There will definitely be a niche market. But you are bang on that there is much, much better stuff and a wide variety available outside of Japan's borders in a lot of cases.

3 ( +6 / -3 )

I'll just be happy if I can get artichokes, Brussels sprouts and palm hearts at e reasonable price... No "luxury" grapes (gripes) for me !

3 ( +4 / -1 )

It kind of makes economic sense to export the expensive produce and import the cheaper produce in a crazy way. The Japanese farmers have been subsidised by th government for many years and have been able to cultivate very high quality produce, at a price! However, whether the rest of the world is interested in buying over-priced Japanese produce remains to be seen.

2 ( +4 / -2 )

As other posters have written, only in Japan do consumers buy into the myth that Japanese fruit is magnitudes of order higher in quality than other countries; that $100 for a tiny melon or Japanese mango is worth it because of the love put in to growing it. I get amazing mangoes here at the market in Bangkok -- I mean, super amazing -- for about $3.5 a kilo (the "expensive" ones). As long as Japanese farmers and politicians continue to live and shop in their tiny swimming pool, they won't know that high quality fruit is everywhere on earth. Cherries from where I was raised in Canada blow the Japanese ones away. Time to get out and experience the real world outside of Japan, boys!

Having said that, one thing for which I will always applaud Japan is that they face any challenge when they are really forced to (individuals, that is...not politicians, who are a bunch of dirtbags). Until now, the farmers have just moaned and complained because they don't WANT to innovate. But I'd bet my bottom dollar that if the TPP gets ratified, these farmers WILL learn how to do it better and more cheaply than many of their competitors. After all, the fruit produced in Japan IS great. And I'd like to see them flourish and get that out to the world...just not at the insane prices they try to gouge people for now.

4 ( +6 / -2 )

only in Japan do consumers buy into the myth that Japanese fruit is magnitudes of order higher in quality than other countries; that $100 for a tiny melon or Japanese mango is worth it because of the love put in to growing it.

This comment just shows that you don't understand why people are buying these expensive fruits. The reason you give is not the reason that people actually have. These fruits are status symbols, and are given as gifts. It's not like people are buying $100 melons for an afternoon snack.

1 ( +4 / -3 )

For other stuff, JA has will destroy produce if the prices drop too far. But that's not uncommon elsewhere either.

Did you know that over 60% of Japan's food is imported already? Did you also know that there are a wide variety of fresh vegetables that are imported as well? China is a HUGE exporter of food to Japan and there are a number of products from there that are already undercutting the local market. However since many Japanese have a hard time trusting the Chinese products many pay the higher prices for the Japanese produce.

In Okinawa, "The Big Express" the discount supermarket arm of AEON, (Max Value) sells quite a bit of imported (Chinese produced) vegetables and they often times do not carry the same Japanese products.

It's not like people are buying $100 melons for an afternoon snack.

I know of a few people who do just this, along with 50,000 yen strawberries as well.

-2 ( +1 / -3 )

Yubaru, isn't that 60% off a little? Doesn't that figure also include farm animal feed? As well as rice used for processed snacks? And wasn't there some controversy that this was carbohydrate based, or something like that? When it comes to fresh fruits and vegetables, not much is imported IMO. I could be wrong.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

If Japanese consumers really understood how much they are getting ripped off by the system they would be shocked. For example, only MAFF is allowed to import wheat. If a miller in Kyushu wants to import a shipload of wheat, MAFF buys it through a tender. The miller has to buy it from MAFF at a significant markup. The government bureaucrats at MAFF use the profits for...goodness knows what. I really would like to know what happens to the profits the government makes on wheat imports.

4 ( +4 / -0 )

Yubaru, isn't that 60% off a little? Doesn't that figure also include farm animal feed? As well as rice used for processed snacks? And wasn't there some controversy that this was carbohydrate based, or something like that? When it comes to fresh fruits and vegetables, not much is imported IMO. I could be wrong

Not really and from what I have researched that does not include farm animal feed either.

http://ourworld.unu.edu/en/future-of-food-in-japan

One issue that receives considerable attention from the Japanese government (for instance, it is the subject of the Food Action Nippon initiative) is the fact that Japan’s food self-sufficiency, based on the amount of calories consumed, was only 39 percent in 2010. The remaining 61 percent of the calories comes from imported food. Australia, in comparison, had a calorie-based self-sufficiency of 173 percent, Canada 168 percent and the United States (US) 124 percent in 2007. (See data from Japan’s Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries.)

http://www.austrade.gov.au/Australian/Export/Export-markets/Countries/Japan/Industries/Fruit-and-vegetables

The total value of vegetables (HS code 07) imported in 2013 was JPY244.7 billion, an increase of 11.4 per cent compared to the previous year. In terms of value, China followed by the US, accounted for about 69 per cent of Japan’s total vegetable imports in 2013. In the same year, Australia ranked 12th for importing vegetables, with a value of JPY2.18 billion. The main imported vegetables were frozen vegetables and fresh vegetables, which are also grown in Japan where onions, carrots, cabbage and tomatoes. (Source: Ministry of Finance, Japanese Customs, Trade statistics for Japan, Sept 2014)

Bit old but pertinent to the discussion.

http://www.ers.usda.gov/media/320488/wrs0406h_1_.pdf

0 ( +2 / -2 )

Strangerland: "These fruits are status symbols"

And you miss the bigger point; there is no reason for them to be status symbols in the first place.

0 ( +3 / -3 )

So?

1 ( +2 / -1 )

This is proof enough that Abe and whoever follows him live in a bell jar. Expensive specialty fruit might make an interesting export for those who can afford it but that will not do much for the corpse that is standard Japanese agriculture. Specialty fruit is based on waste, trashing all extra fruit on the tree. There is not much left for domestic consumption much less for anything but a minor export market. Only a very small segment of farmers can afford to produce luxury fruit. You cannot base a mass agricultural economy on this. (Imagine Germany basing its economy on Leica cameras.)

TTP is the death knell for Japanese agriculture--at least let us hope so. Our tax money has been pouring into this mess and only producing LDP politicians who get in because of this corrupt system.

The average age of farmers is 65. So-called farmers are in fact landowners waiting to sell their land at a good price to malls or whatever.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

As good as Japanese fruit & vegetables generally may be (subject to subjectivity) as others have pointed out, the system producing much of this, esp fruit, can be extremely wasteful in terms of productivity, time, energy and resources. I'm a great supporter of the knowledgable, skillful small farmer - but many practices appear to be fawning to an ignorant market that thinks it knows best.

Yesterday I bought 4 bags of carrots - 7 in each @¥90 a bag because some had small splits and weren't straight. The standard produce right alongside were ¥150 for 3 in a bag - all the same size & shape. Why? This is supermarket stuff - not the province of high end smackery.

Fruit trees generally don't become laden, as the small fruit or buds are picked off allowing for a smaller crop of larger sized fruit commanding a premium price. In my part of the woods, I've watched olives being harvested with the same care as that shown to soft ripened strawberries. Many folks all day picking for a 100kg or so under the belief that their product will be superior - it isn't - failing to understand that many generations of small lot olive farmers in say, Spain, Italy, Greece etc have been producing the highest quality of fruit and oil for centuries with far more productive practices.

If Japanese niche farmers can create demand for their high end produce - good on them and I hope they are successful - but us ordinary folks in Japan don't need to fall for the same marketing ploys - we just want honest to goodness stuff at reasonable prices.

Keep the hype for the riche.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

As good as Japanese fruit & vegetables generally may be (subject to subjectivity) as others have pointed out, the system producing much of this, esp fruit, can be extremely wasteful in terms of productivity, time, energy and resources.

As good as.....? One example, Japanese produced green peppers, a bag with 4 or 5 small peppers costing 198 to 250 yen per bag, vs 4 large sized peppers that cost $1.00 US, I dont care what anyone says, green peppers are green peppers and they are not THAT much different in taste, but the cost......screw that, the 'Merican one's are better! (But the 'Merican one's come from Mexico!)

1 ( +2 / -1 )

Anything high end is going to have a limited market, fruits more than anything else. If Japanese farmers are unfazed by TTP it is because they know they will tons of subsidies from the LDP regime in exchange for votes.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

Anything high end is going to have a limited market, fruits more than anything else. If Japanese farmers are unfazed by TTP it is because they know they will tons of subsidies from the LDP regime in exchange for votes.

Those subsidizes are going to go away as well.

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

Not trying to pick on Yubaru...lol

There is a big difference in the green peppers IMO..aside from the price

The smaller ones are a lot thinner and more spicy, which I never buy. The larger US style are thicker with lots of water. I love that cold juicy crunch on a hot summer day.

FYI for all, when choosing the large green peppers, find the heaviest ones.

3 ( +4 / -1 )

Not trying to pick on Yubaru...lol There is a big difference in the green peppers IMO..aside from the price The smaller ones are a lot thinner and more spicy, which I never buy. The larger US style are thicker with lots of water. I love that cold juicy crunch on a hot summer day. FYI for all, when choosing the large green peppers, find the heaviest ones.

Hey no problem, to each his or her own! My point is that Japanese produce often leaves much to be desired, $4.00 for a head of lettuce, 250 yen for one ear of dried out corn, 200 yen for one friggin tomato, 350 yen for 4 stalks of toothpick thin asparagus, 200 yen for 2 cucumber......OMG it costs more but wtf it's JAPANESE so it just HAS to be better!

Yeah right....

1 ( +2 / -1 )

Yubaru: ...OMG it costs more but wtf it's JAPANESE so it just HAS to be better!

No one on this thread is saying just because it's Japanese, it's better. FRESH produce is what is better!

There is a big difference from fresh picked local produce, compared to un-ripe picked packaged and processed to be shipped produce. I'm not sure where you do your shopping but I've never paid as much as you, except for the cucumbers. Try a local farmers market, the corn will be better and the price of the other things you mentioned should be at least a little cheaper.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

Supermarkets offer either overpriced Japanese or cheaper Chinese produce.

Local farmer's markets in Okinawa (I can't speak for the rest of Japan) have excellent locally grown produce at very reasonable prices.

Tomatoes - 200 yen for a plastic container - I'll check on the weight, but plenty for a salad for two. Basil - 100 yen for a big bag, plenty to use as a salad vegetable. Two or three bags is enough to make 500 grams of pesto. Okra - 70 yen for a bag of around 15.

You can easily get a week's vegetables for under 2,000 yen.

Locally grown produce in season is cheap here. So the markets are doing really well. The shoppers there range from housewives to chefs at upscale hotels and restaurants.

I wonder how they are doing in other parts of Japan.

-1 ( +1 / -2 )

Don't know if it's been said above or not ( haven't read all the way down to here), but I was into organic fruits and veggies 30 plus years ago. Forget about my age, but yes. thirty plus years ago. organic wine tastes the sh, but that is an isolated situation. Organic fruits are by design superior to, for example, any gigantic fuji apple in the nation. i mean, it can feed a family, but otherwise who needs such a big tasteless apple? i live near grapeland in Kyushu. ok,ok.good grapes. but for five bucks i say no i don't care if they will make me beautiful...well that would be good! They have been hand-wrapped,and hand cut and hand boxed. yes, very impressive. but you will never stop the californians from laughing at the high price. they will all over course want to know about organic levels...end of game. rotting grapes. in the red farmers. ' life is but a dream' i say give them pickledplums and fermented beans. that oughta sell eventually

0 ( +1 / -1 )

Bertie

It's taken me a while but I can find similar prices here in Tokyo, from farmers markets, to small organic farms in Chiba and elsewhere. Though for some reason I can't find Basil at your price and the best I can find cucumbers is two for ¥100. Like anywhere in Japan, you'll pay way to much for the convenience of only shopping at local super markets.

JT what's more offensive, Yubaru saying that all Japanese produce taste bad and is overpriced, then claiming, "wtf it's JAPANESE so it jus HAS to be better", or me pointing out the benefits of ripe-picked, local grown produce, over produce being shipped in from other countries?

0 ( +1 / -1 )

JT what's more offensive, Yubaru saying that all Japanese produce taste bad and is overpriced, then claiming, "wtf it's JAPANESE so it jus HAS to be better", or me pointing out the benefits of ripe-picked, local grown produce, over produce being shipped in from other countries?

You have misread my posts. I have NEVER said Japanese produce tastes bad. You also misunderstand and misread the context in which that comment you are quoting here too.

-1 ( +1 / -2 )

My point is that Japanese produce often leaves much to be desired, $4.00 for a head of lettuce, 250 yen for one ear of dried out corn, 200 yen for one friggin tomato, 350 yen for 4 stalks of toothpick thin asparagus, 200 yen for 2 cucumber......OMG it costs more but wtf it's JAPANESE so it just HAS to be better!

My bad, you never said that Japanese produce taste bad, just that Japanese produce often leaves much to be desired, like dried out corn and toothpick thin asparagus. It's interesting that you and Bertie live in Okinawa but for some reason pay much more for produce than he. As I suggested, try shopping at a farmers market sometimes, and you will find fresher & cheaper produce.

As for misreading the context of your comment, I only copied & pasted your words. If I misunderstood it, why didn't you simply explain what you meant by it?

0 ( +1 / -1 )

$4.00 for a head of lettuce, 250 yen for one ear of dried out corn, 200 yen for one friggin tomato, 350 yen for 4 stalks of toothpick thin asparagus, 200 yen for 2 cucumber

Lettuce ¥150, corn ¥125, tomato ¥100~150 depending on size and state of frigginness (they are on the expensive side at the moment, because of the bad weather in September-October), asparagus ¥198 for four reasonably thick stems, cucumber ¥50 each at the moment for the same reason as the tomatoes, normally ¥150 for a bag of four or five. That's in my local supermarket, the farmers' market is cheaper.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

My wife brought home two very large thick green peppers!! ¥130. Very good price. I thought I'd seen my last big pemas for the year

0 ( +1 / -1 )

Thanks Cleo! Even though I live in Tokyo, I never pay as much as Yubaru, I was only posting his comment. I think he is only pointing out some of the highest prices he's seen to try and justify the need for the TPP.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

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