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Sour grapes: Japan battles to protect premium fruits

41 Comments
By Natsuko Fukue and Holmes Chan

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41 Comments
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I don't sympathize much with them. How far can you go about exclusivity? Should fruits be copyrighted?

And why is Japan, as an entity, the one that battles for it? Shouldn't be the farmer's representative the one to do so?

How about researching on how to grow affordable fruits in Japan?

16 ( +26 / -10 )

How many things were invented by European scientists and later on being ‘stolen’ by Asian nations, including Japanese?

7 ( +27 / -20 )

with my current pay Japan fruits are luxury for me. i will just go konbini and buy my onigiri

6 ( +18 / -12 )

Yes and by the same token how much as been taken from Asia, Africa etc over the years by western countries? That line of reasoning will just lead you to chase your tail endlessly.

The moral of the story for these fruit researchers and growers is to register your product internationally so at the end of the day you don't have sour grapes.

14 ( +23 / -9 )

Japan tightened its rules in 2020, prohibiting registered seeds and seedlings from being taken abroad. Violators can face a prison term of up to 10 years or a fine of up to 10 million yen.

Japan is also making efforts to better protect domestic growers against foreign copycats.

Back on the farm, Nakamura is happy that Shine Muscats are well-known across Asia.

"But I don't like it when I see that something Japan worked so hard to produce is easily brought overseas and sold there

Grapes are way too expensive, and farmers do spend a lot of time to protect every grape with some paper around, which does considerably increase the labor cost.

I am not sure if Japan unique seeds have interest for foreign countries, maybe for a few individuals.

Japanese diplomats and scientists traveled overseas during the Meiji period to bring back technologies and ideas. The wheel is turning as it has always been

5 ( +10 / -5 )

This is just a case of ‘sweet grapes’ for the Chinese and Koreans

-3 ( +6 / -9 )

It’s a case of stealing seedlings and taking them out of Japan without permission. The Japanese Muscat growers forgot to get patent protection for their fruit.

3 ( +7 / -4 )

I wonder why fruit grown in Japan has to be so expensive and much of it - to be honest - tasteless. Fuji apples, no thank you. And as for grapes, I've never had one that I've liked. Citrus does well though. Yuzu and Shikwasa are excellent!

4 ( +11 / -7 )

The tiny little secret here is that Shiny Muscat won't be that Shiny and with a Muscat aroma without the controlled adding of plant hormone (giberelin), stunting it's seeds development and enabling all the energy to go into the size and taste. So you're eating a completely synthetic plant, that won't be able to look and taste the same without chemicals.

China and Korean leeches stole the plants but the process of adding giberellin itself is also patented (as the timing and amount is extremely sensitive and changing from plant to plant). That's why they taste like s#it. More info here:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shine_Muscat

1 ( +6 / -5 )

Expensive but the best fruit..

-9 ( +6 / -15 )

will just go konbini and buy my onigiri

LOL!!..

-5 ( +3 / -8 )

How many things were invented by European scientists and later on being ‘stolen’ by Asian nations, including Japanese?

Excellent statememt,and besides the goal should be to reduce the cost of such fruit and not keep it exclusive for a few elitists.

-2 ( +9 / -11 )

People think that Korea and China steal from Japan?

And what has Japan taken from those countries?

Think about it…!

-11 ( +8 / -19 )

Too much time and emphasis spent on how fruit and vegetables look and not how they taste. Looking pretty is not cheap as another poster pointed out. I don't know how much these grapes cost, never bought any and don't intend to do so. We always buy the fruit and veggies that are no "suitable" for the supermarket because they do not conform to the shape and color of the ideal, photo book display stereotype appearance. These less than perfect fruit and veggies save us a lot of money and IMHO taste just as good. Anyone up for a 40000 yen melon?

3 ( +6 / -3 )

Good Luck.

1 ( +3 / -2 )

And herein lies the problem with Japanese artisanry. Fruits, something that should be cheap and easily accessible, are seen as a luxurious food item. In Japan, it is normal for fruits like strawberries to cost 1600 yen for a pack of 6-8 tiny strawberries. Absolutely ridiculous.

I am all for China and Korea adapting these Shine (not the best name for a Japanese food...) grapes and selling them for cheaper. Fruits SHOULD be cheap and not a luxury. This is something that definitely needs to change in Japanese culture.

Artisan goods are usually never successful when produced at scale. There will always be someone who will sell it for cheaper and put the artisan's business at risk..

5 ( +11 / -6 )

How many things were invented by European scientists and later on being ‘stolen’ by Asian nations, including Japanese?

Years ago, I remember watching a program on TV talking about Japanese inventors. On one episode, they introduced a Japanese man who was supposedly the inventor of the potato peeler. And I was like, "What!?" You didn't invent the potato peeler. You saw that abroad and recreated it here in Japan." It was just so unbelievable how they tried to claim the potato peeler as a Japanese invention.

1 ( +7 / -6 )

I understand his feelings about his scientifically perfect product. However, every time I eat a bowl of ramen in Japan, I wonder, "Is this Chinese ramen or Japanese"?

Or how about every time I see someone dressed up as a rapper, but doesn't speak a lick of English?

Sorry, but if you can make grapes, they can make grapes too.

5 ( +9 / -4 )

I mean, yes it is just fruit. And yea, they failed to register a copyright, but I get it.

The fruit represents years of R&D that went into making it (essentially DNA manipulation), so it’s not out of the question to want royalties.

It’s not much different than developing a new medicine or machine part.

5 ( +8 / -3 )

If you’re having a whinge about the cost you’ve obviously never worked on a farm or crafted anything by hand to this level of perfection. The Shine Muscat isn’t mass produced, so it’s the law of supply and demand and traders end up setting a price to market, so middlemen and markets drive up cost. If you’re supporting IP theft, so it’s cheaper, you’ve never put in 30 years of your life to have something swiped from underneath you. When it happens you don’t get those 30 years of life back. This theft is not done by a good farmer in China and Korea, it’s done by men driven by greed.

Unfortunately Japan sucks at protecting its IP and the government should address it.

-1 ( +3 / -4 )

I don’t mind about this business if the Japanese government would not protect it from affordable grapes from outside of Japan in the name of food security. And they are probably even receiving some subsidies. Right now I see it like they are enjoying the monopoly at our expense.

0 ( +3 / -3 )

This practice of protecting cultivars is not new. Many countries do it. It’s only fair because they spend many decades breeding and researching the plant. The end result plant can be patented and protected.

in the USA this is done with new varieties of apples..

2 ( +3 / -1 )

You can buy a Shine Muscat vine in a home center like Komeri for 1500 yen. Like almost all fruit, its a vine grafted onto rootstock. One vine will give you eight, possibly ten or more cuttings to take back to China and graft onto other rootstock. There is no need to "steal" anything.

It sounds like Japanese fruit sold overseas get taxpayer-funded promotion and taxpayer-funded airfreight transportation. It would be interested to see actual numbers to see if its a net positive for Japan.

2 ( +3 / -1 )

Should Japan have registered it's brand(s) before the deadline? Yes. But stealing is stealing. This sounds like more victim blaming. Wouldn't you agree, girl_in_japan?

-1 ( +3 / -4 )

The variety of juicy grape that Yuki Nakamura is harvesting as the sun rises over his farm took scientists 33 years to develop and can sell for 15,000 yen a bunch in Tokyo department stores.

What a bunch a nonsense. They are so delusional. I can get in Europe for a few euros better grappes which actually taste like grappes instead of the Japanese overpriced and tasteless grappes.

-7 ( +9 / -16 )

Japan, China and South Korea are all signatories of UPOV. PBR for trees and vines only lasts for 25 years so the grapes are no longer protected, even if PBR had been applied for.

It is up to the rights holder to protect their intellectual property. Farmers in Japan can typically use farm save and propagated material but it is illegal for them to sell to a neighbour or anyone else. If a farmer in Japan sold seedlings of Shine Muscat to another party, they need to be made an example of and sued into bankruptcy.

Farmers need to follow the law and it is up to the PBR holder to ensure that their rights are upheld.

In Japan, for some plants like tea, rice and sweet potato, PBR extends to the processed product but not for fruit trees. Want to make an apple pie from a PBR protected apple variety to sell in your shop, you legally can. Want to sell matcha flavoured ice-cream from a PBR protected green tea plant, you will have to get the owner of the variety to approve it.

Most varieties covered under UPOV in Japan are registered by either seed companies or individuals. The number of varieties with rights held by universities and national research institutes is almost nothing in Japan or a very small slice.

You snooze, you loose. It costs almost nothing to register a variety in Japan, China and Korea.

2 ( +3 / -1 )

PepsiCo owns the patent to the FC5 potato used to make Lays chips. Over years, they claim to have developed this variety and registered it under the Protection of Plant Variety and Farmers Rights Act. However they have struggled to prevent people from growing it.

If Pepsi can’t stop people, Japanese farmers are really going to struggle.

3 ( +3 / -0 )

All of these premium fruits are over priced.

If someone closed their eyes and ate one of these grapes or a regular grape most people wouldn't know the difference.

-2 ( +4 / -6 )

@Bob I think it is only India were they lost their legal protection. Growing potatoes is one of the most profitable crops and most are grown under contract. To get crop insurance in North America a grower needs a production contract. It is somewhat a closed loop, large processors have a limited approved variety list and will only contract with a grower for the variety they want. Because it is such a profitable crop no grower would ever colour outside the lines and run afoul of UPOV.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

I don't know specifically about Shine Muscat, but you can buy cuttings of branded roses and hydrangeas on Mercari. That's Japanese gardeners (illegally) selling plants to other Japanese gardeners (or me). This is not something limited to foreigners who may be perceived as being evil or moneygrabbing or something.

I put "illegally" in brackets because its mostly gardeners just sharing plants for the cost of postage, something folks have done for time immemorial.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

I prefer natural organic grapes, which I do have.

1 ( +2 / -1 )

You'd have to be incredibly stupid to pay that much for a single bunch of grapes. Especially a Muscat varietal. It doesn't even make good wine.

0 ( +2 / -2 )

Muscat makes a very nice wine. Twice I went to France to pick the grapes. Drunk young. Very nice with seafood.

2 ( +4 / -2 )

Look everyone, Don't you respect farmers? Their hard work. Do you even know how tough is it to work in the agriculture field.

Japan, get more fruits and vegetables expensive, make it more premium. These days people are throwing food so carelessly like it's all for showing up on social media.

Too much food waste in this world.

Japan doing very good in making fruits expensive and Switzerland also doing very good on making the food overall expensive.

It's time human should know the every little value of single seed and grain.

-1 ( +1 / -2 )

Of all places in the world I have been to, Japan clearly has the most expensive fruit.

If a supermarket in my home country put out grapes at Japanese prices, they would not sell a single bunch.

As for the comment above, remember that those "premium" prices make the fruit unaffordable for a significant percentage of the population. That's not fair at all.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

@BackpackingNepal

Farming is hard work in Japan because the entire sector is 100 years behind the rest of the world. It is outdated and inefficient. Just one example, hop on a train and you will see small flat fields separated by grass borders. The fields will be the same height. Just getting rid of those useless grass lines between flat fields would add an additional 2% an minimum to the arable land. And I don't mean terraced mountain fields. Larger fields would allow for larger more efficient equipment giving a huge boast to productivity.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

The challenge is Japanese think fruit is something more than.........food.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

The fruit is cheaper in the US. . .BUT. You get apples, peaches and other fruit that would make good cannonballs. Peaches don't ripen once the are picked, either. They start rotting. They are only good for baked goods. Many vegetables (tomatoes, for example) are much the same and many don't have much flavor.

I'd buy fruit (and vegetables) in Japan first. I never had any problem with the money because I got fruit and vegetables worth the price in Japan. People buy fruit that looks nice. In the US that means rock-hard, flavorless fruit: in Japan that means fruit that looks good and IS good, too.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

 Peaches don't ripen once the are picked, either.

Yes they do if they were mature when picked.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

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