The Japan NewsA new interview series showcases the movers and shakers who have won renown or will achieve world-leading success in bringing “Japan” onto the global stage. The first interview was conducted in English with Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Minister Yoshimasa Hayashi who has led the offensive to revive Japan’s struggling farm sector by taking it to the world.
Q: You’ve been to the Milan Expo and other overseas events to promote Japanese food. How do you view the growing washoku boom worldwide?
Hayashi: Since washoku was named an Intangible World Heritage by UNESCO in 2013, we can say this is a boom for Japanese cuisine. For example, the number of Japanese restaurants outside Japan has increased from 55,000 in 2013 to 89,000 this year. That’s a 1.6 time increase. And the Japan Pavilion is one of the most popular at the Milan Expo. We’ve already recorded more than 1.3 million visitors. A survey asked visitors which was the best pavilion and which one makes you feel like you’re visiting that country, and the Japan Pavilion was chosen as No. 1 in both questions. The pavilion was a great, interesting experience when I visited it twice.
Last year, we recorded 13 million inbound visitors to Japan. This year, maybe, there will be a 40 to 50 percent increase from that figure. Maybe next year, we will see over 20 million inbound visitors to Japan. When we ask inbound visitors what they would like to do when they visit Japan, the No. 1 answer is drinking and eating Japanese cuisine. No. 2 and No. 3 are shopping and sightseeing. That tells us how popular Japanese cuisine is among the people visiting Japan.
We’re trying to utilize this trend to further increase the income of producers and achieve local revitalization, so we started a committee of promoting Japanese food and food culture with many pundits and specialists on the 10th of September. We’re now trying to start a certification system for chefs abroad to maintain quality. Within this fiscal year, we’re trying to create a network between such a certification system and Japanese restaurants abroad.
For local revitalization, we’re trying to set up a committee to create a new system — this is still a provisional name — the “rural landscape and local cuisine areas” system in Japan, a measure already implemented in some European countries. We’re trying to utilize the junction between sightseeing and Japanese cuisine for local revitalization. In the last Cabinet decision on the growth strategy, we included such policies as creating a DMO, destination marketing/management organization. We’re trying to set up some model areas for the coming years. By utilizing these policies, we are trying to create a good chain reaction between increases in exports and increases in inbound visitors. One helps the other because if you visit Japan, you experience nice cuisine. After you return home, you still want to eat such cuisine. So this will increase export. If you increase exports, that means some customers outside Japan are eating and drinking and enjoying those things. That would lead those people to want to come to Japan to enjoy authentic items here. Inbound tourism and exports, both are helping each other.
Q: Is this related to the so-called FBI strategy?
A: Yes, for exports, we started the FBI strategy, which is made From Japan, By Japan and In Japan. To boost made in Japan exports, we have to enhance the image of made by Japan with Japanese cuisine and culture and also made from Japan which means some kind of citrus such as yuzu used not only in Japanese cuisine but also in French cuisine. Together with those three, we can orchestrate the policy for boosting exports. Like I said, in 2013, washoku was named a UNESCO Intangible World Heritage. This year, we’ve had the successful Milan Expo. And then in 2020, we will have the Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games. So this is the hop, step and jump for boosting our FBI strategy.
We’ve set a goal to double exports from ¥450 billion in 2012, to ¥1 trillion in 2020. Our interim goal is ¥700 billion next year. But thanks to everybody’s efforts and the depreciation of the yen, we’ve already almost achieved the ¥700 billion this year.
Q: ¥1 trillion is already within reach?
A: We’re trying to achieve the goal even before 2020. We’re trying to make a specific strategy for each item like beef, rice, flowers, vegetables and fruits and then for each destination — Asia, Europe, America and Latin America. In each case, we have to address each individual issue. When we want to export fishery products to the EU, we need to use the EU HACCP (Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point) system. So we have to increase the number of facilities with EU HACCP certification. When we want to export wagyu beef to the Islamic countries in the Middle East, Malaysia and Indonesia, we need Halal certification. We have to have facilities where we can get Halal certification. Not by individuals or individual cities or prefectures, we have to tackle these problems as a team.
Now we’re trying to establish a safety management standards scheme and certifications for items like fermented food and dashi soup stock which is fundamental to Japanese cuisine. Japanese people know those things much better than anybody in other countries. So we need to establish such schemes based on our knowledge.
Compared to all the schemes based on practices in the EU and the United States, a Japan-based scheme would be much easier for Japanese farmers, I hope. Not only for farmers but also for food-processing companies and those trying to expand their activities overseas.
Q: What about regulations in other countries? For example, South Korea is still concerned about Japanese food after the Fukushima nuclear crisis.
A: We’ve already issued our first annual report on trade barriers/measures of exporting food, agricultural, forestry and fishery products this April. It includes all the measures to boost exports. It also reports on the deregulation process for restrictions that came into existence after 3/11 four years ago. Countries such as Australia and Thailand have already lifted their regulations, while such countries as America, Singapore and EU members have deregulated. But some countries and regions, especially China, Hong Kong, Taiwan and Korea, still have substantial regulations. We’re asking them to deregulate and lift the regulations completely, based on scientific data.
Impact of TPP
Q: The negotiating countries failed to reach a basic agreement on the TPP. What are the current prospects for the TPP negotiations?
A: In every ongoing negotiation, the remaining problems are so difficult, because the easier ones can be settled at an earlier time. So when you’re getting into the final stage, it’s getting harder and harder. But to set up a certain timeframe or a deadline is not a good way to reach a conclusion. We think the content itself and how we agree determine the timing.
Q: How do you think Japan’s agriculture will change by participating in the TPP?
A: The agriculture, forestry and fisheries committees in both upper and lower houses passed resolutions [that seek to maintain tariffs in five key farm categories]. We have to make utmost efforts to achieve the requests contained in those resolutions, to preserve sustainable agriculture, forestry and fisheries here in Japan. But regardless of the TPP, Japanese agriculture is on the brink of going one of two ways. One way is the further aging of its farmers and more abandoned farmland. Japanese agriculture would get weaker.
The other way, the way we have to go, is to keep revitalizing agriculture and getting younger people to come in. To do that, we’ve set up a new set of policies on agricultural reform that consists of three pillars of industrial policy, Expand demand, Establish value chain from farmers to consumers and Strengthen producer side.
Q: Many of the reforms were driven by the possibility of Japan’s participation in the TPP. So what if we don’t have the TPP?
A: Like I said, we’re facing two paths. With or without the TPP, we have to do these reforms. I’ve never said this is because of the TPP. Even if the TPP is not concluded anytime soon, we have to continue this reform. This is not for the TPP, but for Japanese agriculture. We don’t have any intention to adjust the speed of the reform. But the TPP is one of the pillars of the revitalization of the entire Japanese economy. So I think not having the TPP would mean missing chances to have wider access to the world market.
Q: There seems to be a big gap between the ideal and reality. Regarding the farmland bank project [in which public bodies lease farmland from farmers and consolidate small lots into larger ones to facilitate the transfer of farmland], for example, its first year widely missed a government-set target. What are your thoughts on that?
A: Instead of doing nothing, it showed certain results. So continuing our efforts is very important. Now we’re into the second year. More people know more about the farmland bank now. In the first year, not so many people knew about it. Letting people know about the system and reminding people about its merits is very important.
Q: So you are positive about the revitalization of the agricultural sector?
A: Yes. It’s already happening. Rice prices seemed to hit bottom last year. This year, they are going to increase, showing that everybody is trying to follow the overall framework of supply and demand. They’re joining the movement or shifting some production from rice for human beings to rice for livestock, sake or processed food. Supply and demand are getting closer.
Beatles, English & TKG
Q: I’ve heard you are a good musician and that you’re a big fan of The Beatles, especially Paul McCartney. Did you want to become a professional musician when you were young instead of a politician?
A: I encountered The Beatles more than 40 years ago. That was a big shock. I listened to their records almost every day. I’m really grateful to The Beatles’ records for improving my English ability. I’ve been playing the guitar and the piano since my high school days. Maybe, in my first year of college, I thought about becoming a professional musician. We wrote songs, recorded them on cassette tapes and sent them to the contests. But nobody thought we had a future as musicians. I realized music is a nice hobby, not a profession.
Q: You’ve set up a rock band with other lawmakers.
A: Gi!nz is the name of our rock band. I set it up with three other guys. We’ve been doing those activities for charity, especially for bone-marrow banks and tsunami victims in Indonesia. It’s been more than 10 years.
Q: Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was reelected as Liberal Democratic Party president for a third term. What do you think are the advantages of a stable government?
A: A good thing about stability is we can tackle issues which haven’t been touched or tackled for many years because of the instability of politics. For example, rice policy has been reformed for the first time in 40 years. The JA [Agricultural Cooperatives] reform is also the first significant such reform in 60 years. Significant reforms like these have to be done by a stable government because if the government isn’t stable, there is a tendency to take more a populist approach to keep the government stable. Like raising the consumption tax, implementing reforms which have pros and cons requires five or 10 years. But in the short run, it could be very difficult. Tackling and achieving these reforms are a good aspect of a stable government.
Q: As a politician, what is your ambition?
A: I ran for president of the LDP three years ago. Many of my colleagues supported that. I’m still thinking about that option for the future. But becoming a top leader is not my aim. To achieve good policies and good situations for the country is my aim. Becoming a top leader is a means to that end.
Q: What Japanese food would you recommend most to foreign visitors to Japan?
A: Tamagokake gohan [or TKG, raw egg on steamed rice]. It was very popular at the expo in Hong Kong this year. People visiting Japan from Hong Kong want to buy the dish. This is one example of a good synergy between inbound tourism and exports. Also, foreigners and Japanese have different views. Japanese people know tamagokake gohan is tasty but don’t think this could be a gift. But actually, foreigners love those things. Everybody knows sushi and tempura and sashimi. So I wouldn’t choose those.
Born in 1961, Hayashi grew up in a political family. He is a University of Tokyo graduate who initially worked at companies such as trading house Mitsui & Co. He was first elected to the House of Councillors in 1995 from Yamaguchi Prefecture. He studied at Harvard University’s graduate school. Known as an expert in policy making, Hayashi has served in cabinet positions including defense minister and state minister for economic and fiscal policy.