Home > The Food of Japan > Traveling and seeking Japanese food [Vol.1]


text

The Food of Japan Culinary Delights for the Body and Soul

Traveling and seeking Japanese food

Food journalist, Christopher K. Loew's report on Japanese food from his participation in a foreign media tour in Japan.

Agrifood Expo is the place to find unique local products

The 4th annual AGRIFOOD EXPO was held August 25-26, 2009, featuring a wide variety of local Japanese specialty foods.

The 225 exhibitors were mainly agricultural co-operatives, but there were also many private companies. The booths were set in a pattern imitating the islands of Japan, with producers from the 47 prefectures in their appropriate places. They were all hoping to contact buyers representing distributors, retailers, bars and restaurants.

Most of the 9,047 attendees were Japanese, but there was a smattering of international buyers as well, some of whom were brought over by the Japan External Trade Organization(JETRO). JETRO Director Yukio Yokoi said the organization invited about 20 store buyers this year, from Hong Kong and China, India, Malaysia, France and the USA. The buyers will also tour production areas at JETRO expense.

JETRO also invited a couple of food writers to spread information in their own countries about what they saw and learned during the tour of Japan, about both the products and the ever-changing trends of Japanese consumer tastes.

Yokoi said that Asian countries have been quick to adopt Japanese foods, as many of the taste preferences are similar. But most Americans eat Japanese food only when they go to a Japanese restaurant, and don’t cook it at home, except in a few large cities like Los Angeles. He hopes that Japanese foods will be incorporated in household meals.

Among the Agrifood Expo exhibitors were several whose products had been chosen in a recent event called “MAFF’S 40 processed food products”. A panel including overseas buyers chose 40 promising products with good export potential in a television show produced in cooperation with Japan’s Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries. Chosen items such as the mandarin-orange jam of Sowa Kajuen Co., Ltd., the yuzu (citron)-flavored miso paste of Tokyo Food Co., Ltd., and the shrimp-flavored rice crackers of Hinodeya-seikasangyo Co., Ltd., are included in the list below.

Kihoku-kawakami Agricultural Cooperative

http://www.ja-kihokukawakami.or.jp

This Wakayama Prefecture agricultural co-op for orchardists exports half-dried seedless persimmons. Fruit manager, Tadahiko Morishita said that the half-dried style is not common in Japan, but has become popular with customers in Hong Kong, Taiwan, Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand and Hawaii. Persimmons are harvested from mid-September to the end of October. After drying and vacuum packing, they freeze the fruit to burst the cells and release the sweet juices.

Kihoku-kawakami Agricultural Cooperative

Sowa Kajuen Co., Ltd.

http://sowakajuen.com/

The company’s mandarin orange (mikan) juice tastes sweeter and less sour than the Valencia orange juice with which Americans are familiar. The mikans are picked in Wakayama Prefecture around the year-end, and are peeled and sent to a contracted processor. The resulting juice has a sugar content of 40 brix. President Shingo Akitake said that the company exports to Hong Kong, Singapore and Taiwan. Sowa Kajuen’s mikan jam was one of MAFF’s 40 selected processed food products. Compared to marmalade, it is sweeter and juicier.

Sowa Kajuen Co., Ltd.

Kagura Fruit Products

http://www.mera-yuzu.com/

The company produces yuzu citrus juice. While some cooks try to substitute lemon juice in Japanese recipes calling for yuzu juice, the flavor differs. Yuzu is stronger and sourer. The bottles shown are for restaurant use and this is the company’s main export product. In addition, the company offers canned yuzu juice, which are spicy and tasty made from a jalapeno yuzukosho, a seasoning used as a condiment for nabe (one pot) dishes.

Kagura Fruit Products

Hearts Corp.

http://www.hearts.co.jp/index.html

While alfalfa and mung bean sprouts are well known abroad, and kaiware (daikon radish sprouts) and broccoli sprouts are very popular in Japan, Hearts Corp. aims to stretch this sprouty trend to other greens. They offer broccoli, red cabbage, mizuna, nozowana, and komatsuna (which they brand as “gaba sprout”). The last three mentioned are leafy greens related to the turnip.

Kashiwazaki-seika Co.

http://www.aomori96229.jp/

Black garlic and Aomori is made by fermenting garlic at 80 degrees Celsius for 30 to 40 days. The process increases the nutritional value while eliminating odor and the product has a mild taste and creamy texture. It has caught on in Europe, especially as a topping for Spanish dishes. In the USA, it is just becoming known, as some chefs in New York and San Francisco are using it. Chairman Shinichi Kashiwazaki said that the company also sells burdock root and nagaimo, or long potato, grown in Hokkaido and Aomori. Nagaimo has viscous juice that is said to be good for the stomach. They export it to Taiwan.

Kashiwazaki-seika Co.

Izunuma-nousan Corporation

http://www.izunuma.co.jp/

The company exports European-style smoked hams, reminiscent of the Jamon hams of Spain, or the Jambon hams of France. The feed is non-GMO and their “nama ham” series product is aged over two years. Such long aging has become a rarity, even in Europe. Their “Date no Junsui Akabuta” brand is made from red Duroc hogs. Hideo Ito, President of Izunuma-nousan, said their premium smoked hams fetch top prices at Hong Kong department stores and restaurants.

Izunuma-nousan Corporation

Niko-en Co., Ltd.

http://www.niko-en.co.jp/

Tetsuo Shima, the chairman of egg producer, Niko-en, was very fortunate in his export experience, as one thing just led to another. In March of 2008, he joined a MAFF export promotion in Hong Kong. At first nothing came of it, but when he posted on his website that he had obtained HACCP certification, one of the promotion attendees, Sogo department store, expressed interest. The show had sparked their interest, but safety was an issue since they wished to use the eggs raw in particular Japanese dishes. The Sogo exposure led to sales to a cafe-restaurant and a supermarket in Hong Kong too. Once the ball gets rolling, it gathers speed, it seems. But attention to safety and quality go a long way too. By using young chickens and high-quality feed they produce an egg with a firm yolk that stands up high, and by taking the utmost care in shipping, they have had no claims for broken eggs.

Niko-en Co., Ltd.

Mizube-Plaza Kamoto

http://www.mizube-plaza.co.jp/

Only about ten local farmers produce a small volume of specialty ancient black rice and grains which they sell through Mizube-Plaza Kamoto, a farmers market in Kumomoto Prefecture. Enterprise manager Hironobu Nakashima said that in olden times the dark purple color of this “black rice”, when mixed with white rice, gave color to sekihan, celebratory red rice. Now, the color usually comes from adzuki beans. I addition to black rice, they have two special rice blends with five grains (red, black and green rice, and two types of millet) and ten grains (as above, but with whole grain rice, amaranth, barely, and two additional types of millet). Traditionally, barley and millet were consumed instead of rice in hard times. Now, despite the “poor” image, many people are discovering that they are also tasty and healthful. These blends are called go-koku-mai and ju-koku-mai, respectively.

Mizube-Plaza Kamoto

Kanai Farm

http://www5.kannet.ne.jp/~kanainouen/

Mr. Shigeyuki Kanai runs Kanai Farm in Gunma Prefecture as a family business that produces organic white and black rice. He prominently displayed the Japan Agricultural Service’s organic certification document at his booth. The farm’s irrigation water comes from Oze spring and is very pure. Ducks are used for weeding and insect control in place of chemicals.

Kanai Farm

Hinodeya-seikasangyo Co., Ltd

http://www.sasaraya-kakibei.com/ , http://www.hinodeya-seika.com/english/index.html

Hinodeya-seikasangyo Co., Ltd. produces senbei (rice crackers) using rice and shrimp from Toyama Prefecture, and sells them under the Sasaraya Kakibei brand. It was one of MAFF’s 40 selected processed food products. They also make arare, which are small cracker pieces shaped like hailstones. These are popular for the “Girl’s Day” holiday. The company does not have export experience, but did participate in an overseas product exhibition in which their senbei product was so popular it was all consumed within a few hours.

Hinodeya-seikasangyo Co., Ltd

Tokyo Food Co., Ltd.

http://www.tokyo-food.co.jp/ , http://www.tokyo-food.co.jp/english/company.htm

The company was once a food importer, but now makes miso paste and other processed food products and distributes them to stores in the Kanto area around Tokyo. The main products are made from ginger, citrus, wasabi, sweet potatoes and soybeans. They add value by utilizing by-products, for example, by using ginger that is not suitable for processing to shoga to make a shoga paste in a tube. Sales Manager Shodo Tsukagoshi said that to spur exports the company has been taking part in overseas exhibitions. Their yuzu-flavored miso was one of MAFF’s 40 selected processed food products.

Tokyo Food Co., Ltd.

Tokyo Food Co., Ltd.

Ryutsu Service Co.

http://www.ecofarm.co.jp/

The company, located at the foot of Mt. Fuji in Shizuoka Prefecture, has been cultivating Japanese green tea for six years, but has just recently installed facilities to process and package it themselves. They are now offering an English-labeled export package. Their sales point is that their tea is organic. Organic tea is difficult to produce, says owner Takeshi Shinba. While the formality of the Japanese tea ceremony is well known, Fuji-Matcha can also be enjoyed conveniently by shaking it with hot water in a vacuum thermos bottle. The company exports to Thailand through a business partner there, and has begun introducing the product to Europe through a distributor the company first met at Agrifood Expo and now has a business relationship with.

Ryutsu Service Co.

Hokkaido Wine Corp.

http://www.hokkaidowine.com/

Hokkaido Wine Corporation makes a line of excellent German-style wines. At first, the cold, snowy climate of Hokkaido presented challenges in grape culture, said Tokyo Sales Manager Naoki Imamura. The exposed vines froze and withered. Now, the vines are grown at an angle to keep their height below the snow level. Under a blanket of snow, the grape vines are protected from cold drying winds. The choice of a sweet German-style wine was natural, since their vintner had been recruited from Germany. As it turns out, a sweeter dessert-wine is very suitable for the palettes of customers in China, Hong Kong, Taiwan and Korea, who may not be used to drinking dry wines.

Hokkaido Wine Corp.

Kotsuzumi Sake Brewery

http://www.kotsuzumi.co.jp/

Yoshiro Inagami of Kotsuzumi Sake Brewery produces Nishiyama brand sake. Last year, Chinese sightseers in Japan tried his sake at their hotel and later ordered more sent to them in China. This led him to develop mail order sales into the US and Singapore as well. He believes his decorative bottles are appealing and memorable for overseas customers. From now, he intends to focus his marketing efforts on China.

Kotsuzumi Sake Brewery

Okunomatsu Sake Brewery Co., Ltd.

http://www.okunomatsu.co.jp/english/english.htm

Okunomatsu Sake was among MAFF’S 40 selected processed food products. The company also was awarded gold medals for every one of its five entries in the US National Sake Appraisal in Honolulu in 2008. Though sake is not as popular among Japanese these days, it is enjoying a boom in the USA, along with rising interest in Japanese cuisine. The company’s sparkling sakes are especially popular.

Okunomatsu Sake Brewery Co., Ltd.

Chris Loew
Chris Loew
Profile

Chris Loew is an editor for SeafoodSource.com and Global Investing, a stock investing newsletter. Based in Osaka, Japan, he was born and raised in the USA, and has worked in a Japanese meat importing company, and as an export director for Seattle food companies.

Top of Page