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Japanese rice farmers, distributors looking overseas

Courtesy of Wakka Japan Co.

The Rice Factory Honolulu in Hawaii

Jiji PressTOKYO (Jiji Press) — Japanese rice farmers and distributors are increasingly looking overseas to sell their products as domestic consumption is falling at an annual pace of 100,000 tons amid shrinking populations and diversified dietary habits.

Japan’s rice exports expanded by more than seven times to about 13,800 tons in 2018 over the last eight years. If sake and other processed rice products are included, the figure topped 30,000 tons.

But the number is far short of the government’s target of 100,000 tons. There are many challenges that need to be addressed, including high prices and import regulations overseas.

Hawaii rice retailer The Rice Factory Honolulu has local customers who visit regularly. Organically grown rice is popular in particular.

Wakka Japan Co., based in Sapporo, runs the store as part of its business of selling Japanese rice overseas. The company, which also operates in Hong Kong and Singapore, plans to launch a store in New York.

The agriculture ministry has been financially supporting rice exports in an effort to ensure that the country maintains its rice production capabilities while avoiding excess domestic supply.

Kyoto-Yuki Co., a rice-producing company in Yosano, Kyoto Prefecture, started rice exports to China last year, and its exports have already surpassed domestic shipments. Exports to China are “more profitable than domestic sales,” said Kyoto-Yuki President Yoshinori Kagawa.

But such Japanese rice is mainly for the rich.

For example, rice is sold for about ¥400 per kilogram in supermarkets in China, but Japanese rice sells for around ¥1,500 per kilogram.

An official at a Japanese sushi restaurant chain operating in China said, “We hope to use Japanese rice but doing so would be unprofitable.”

Some Japanese farmers have started to produce low-cost rice by using robots and introducing varieties with higher harvest volume.

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