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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.

Yellowtail promoted at Japan International Seafood & Technology Expo

Three yellowtail exporters were prominent at the 9th annual Japan International Seafood & Technology Expo, held July 22-24, 2009: Azuma-cho Fishery Cooperative, Rumi Japan, and Onsui Co., Ltd.

While many product styles are available within Japan, the product form favored for export is “yellowtail fillet in vacuum package”.

Azuma-cho exports its Buri-Oh brand Yellowtail fillets almost exclusively fresh, but there is a trend in the industry toward exporting yellowtail frozen in ocean containers rather than fresh by air, to preserve color and save on shipping cost. Rumi’s exports are 80 percent chilled and 20 percent frozen. They use a special all-natural fish feed that includes tea leaf, which they claim slows discoloring of the flesh.

Onsui established its processing and freezing facilities in Ehime in 2007. Onsui’s exported yellowtail fillets are all frozen using its original process which includes lightly smoking the product. Managing Director Tsuyoshi Sugimoto said the process maintains good color and avoids freezer burn.

Yellowtail is Japan’s top exported aquaculture finfish by value. As an example of the current export markets, Rumi’s actual 2008 sales by destination were: North America: 280 metric tons, Europe: 30 MT, East Asia: 20 MT, and SE Asia: 7 MT. The company has English-speaking sales staff as well as a staff-member from China. It is aggressively promoting at trade shows, including at Gulfood in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, where they hope to develop a new market.

Tsuyoshi Sugimoto of Onsui (right) with Shunzo Yagi

Tsuyoshi Sugimoto of Onsui (right) with Shunzo Yagi, President of Koyo Trading, Ltd., which exports the product.

Japanese seafood exporters have benefited from the spread in popularity of sushi over the last several years, but buyers have been more price-conscious in the wake of the economic downturn. “After the bankruptcy of Lehman Brothers in 2008, the overall economy is going slow. In spite of that, our business is running well,” said Rumi’s president, Satoshi Morimatsu.

A key to Japan’s export success in yellowtail, also known as “buri” and “hamachi”, has been acquiring HACCP certification. Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points (HACCP) is a systematic preventive approach to food safety that addresses hazards as a means of prevention, rather than relying only on finished product inspection. For North America and Europe particularly, buyers place great emphasis on HACCP and all three of the companies are certified.

Rumi started sales of yellowtail and other seafood items to North America immediately after its HACCP certificate was issued by the Japan Fisheries Association in 2000. The company is committed to maintaining a strict hygiene standard. They have acquired EUHACCP (an EU version of HACCP), BRC (British Retail Consortium) and ISO 9001:2000 (quality management) certifications.

Azuma-cho, which claims the largest production volume in the nation, started its exports about 10 years ago and today exports about 20,000 fish, or 40,000 packaged fillets per year. Fillets are sized in 4-5 kg or 6-7 kg ranges. North American buyers seem to prefer the larger fillets, while Europeans and Japanese prefer the smaller fillets.

Producers of yellowtail also typically produce Japanese amberjack (Kanpachi) and sea bream (Madai), but yellowtail accounts for most of the exports?95 percent in the case of Azuma-cho. However, as the science for captive breeding of Pacific bluefin tuna (Kuromaguro) is advancing, led by Kinki University’s Marine Research Center in Wakayama Prefecture, Japan, some producers are considering dropping the less profitable amberjack in favor of tuna in a few years.

Azuma-cho’s display featured yellowtail

Azuma-cho’s display featured yellowtail belly and loin (top left) and fillets (center). On the right (from top to bottom) are yellowtail headed and gutted (“H&G”), gutted, and whole (“in the round”). At lower left is a sea bream (Madai).

While each company has its individual strong points, commitment to quality and freshness are held in common. They all emphasize quick processing after harvesting to maintain freshness by using highly automated systems and, in the case of chilled fillets, the product is air shipped on the day of harvest.

Azuma-cho Fishery Cooperative
1229 Takanosu Nagashima-cho, Izumi-gun, Kagoshima Pref. 889-1403 Japan
Website: http://www.azuma.or.jp/en/
E-mail: kako-az@azuma.or.jp

Rumi Japan (Morimatsu Suisan Reito Co., Ltd.)
5-2-20 Tenpouzan-cho, Imabari, Ehime 794-0032 Japan
Website: http://www.rumijapan.co.jp/en/index.php
Inquire via their website contact page: http://www.rumijapan.co.jp/en/contact/index.php

Onsui Co., Ltd.
4419 Shitaba, Uwajimaya, Ehime 798-0104 Japan
Website: http://www.onsui.co.jp/ (in Japanese only)
Fax: +81 895-30-2771

Chris Loew
Chris Loew

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.

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