Award-Winning Producers Optimistic As Olive Oil Culture Takes Root in Japan

Extra virgin olive oil is becoming more common in Japanese households and restaurants, with families and chefs increasingly appreciating the healthy properties and unique flavors of high-quality olive oil.
Photo: Nippon Olive Company
By Paolo DeAndreis
Jun. 21, 2021 13:02 UTC

Part of our con­tin­u­ing spe­cial cov­er­age of the 2021 NYIOOC World Olive Oil Competition.

Seven extra vir­gin olive oils from Japan – one less than last year – were awarded at the 2021 NYIOOC World Olive Oil Competition.

Overall, five pro­duc­ers com­bined to win three Gold Awards and four Silver Awards at the world’s most pres­ti­gious olive oil qual­ity com­pe­ti­tion.

From the 2021 NYIOOC, we can expe­ri­ence and taste other top-of-class olive oils and study their char­ac­ter­is­tics.- Kenichi Nakagawa, head of olive oil research, Nippon Olive Company

The win­ning pro­duc­ers told Olive Oil Times that the out­look for the upcom­ing years is bright as olive oil cul­ture con­tin­ues to spread through­out the coun­try.

Extra vir­gin olive oil is becom­ing more com­mon in Japanese house­holds and restau­rants, with fam­i­lies and chefs increas­ingly appre­ci­at­ing the healthy prop­er­ties and unique fla­vors of high-qual­ity olive oil.

See Also:The Best Olive Oils from Japan

In a coun­try where the cli­mate is often chal­leng­ing for olive grow­ers, pro­duc­ers reported excel­lent yields in 2020, both in terms of quan­tity and qual­ity.

Despite the weather, the 2020 olive har­vest went well. I believe we were able to pro­duce the deli­cious olive oil we were look­ing for,” Toyohiro Takao, the owner of Takao Nouen who earned a Silver Award for his Olive Hatake brand, told Olive Oil Times.


Toyohiro Takao.

Japan’s cli­mate is char­ac­ter­ized by heavy rain­fall, from spring to autumn. We are chal­lenged by the hours of sun­shine and the amount of rain,” he added. For instance, the rainy sea­son takes place in the time of flow­er­ing and pol­li­na­tion. I was wor­ried about this, but last year it did not rain dur­ing the flow­er­ing sea­son in my grove, and pol­li­na­tion is going well.”

Takao empha­sized how the typhoon sea­son, which runs from July to October, is a sea­son of many wor­ries, as strong winds can cause trees to col­lapse and fruit to fall.”

Regarding the weather, I feel that the sum­mer is get­ting hot­ter,” Takao added. We are wor­ried about the lack of pre­cip­i­ta­tion in mid-sum­mer, but we are ready to irri­gate the fields, and we are mon­i­tor­ing the olive trees and fruit.”

In such an envi­ron­ment, he believes that the secret to pro­duce award-win­ning olive oil is by focus­ing on grow­ing healthy trees.

That is how we obtain beau­ti­ful fruits, the oil of which is extracted quickly after har­vest­ing and fil­tered imme­di­ately after that, with all of these oper­a­tions tak­ing place at con­trolled tem­per­a­tures,” he said.

Along with plenty of other Japanese pro­duc­ers, Takao said that olive oil’s pop­u­lar­ity is grow­ing rapidly in Japan.

The use of olive oil in the home is increas­ing,” Takao said. The amount of olive oil sold in food stores is increas­ing. Imports are also on the rise. However, since last year, we have been receiv­ing orders from sushi restau­rants, soba noo­dle restau­rants, tem­pura restau­rants, kappo restau­rants and other Japanese restau­rants.”

With three Gold Awards in the last three edi­tions of the NYIOOC, the Agri Olive Shodoshima Company once again claimed top hon­ors at the com­pe­ti­tion with its medium blend.


Photo: Agri Olive Shodoshima

Unlike other pro­duc­ers in Japan, Agri Olive Shodoshima’s olive groves are favor­ably influ­enced by the unique cli­mate of Shodoshima Island, which closely resem­bles that of the Mediterranean. The island’s ideal con­di­tions are attrib­uted to it being the cra­dle of Japan’s first olive grow­ing oper­a­tions.

We do have our chal­lenges,” Nobuyuki Hiraiwa, the company’s pres­i­dent, told Olive Oil Times. Due to the island’s remote loca­tion, the pro­duc­tive pop­u­la­tion is small, and it is dif­fi­cult to secure work­ers for farm­ing.”


On top of that, only a frac­tion of the island is flat land, so we count on a lim­ited area for olive cul­ti­va­tion,” he added.

The com­pany has two decades of expe­ri­ence grow­ing olives, includ­ing some of the most renowned Mediterranean cul­ti­vars, such as Lucca, Manzanillo, Nevadillo Blanco, Arbequina and Kalamata.

The blend that won the 2021 NYIOCC judges’ approval com­prised Mission, Manzanillo, Lucca and Nevadillo Negro olives.

The qual­ity of our olive oil depends on the right choice of the fruits, their ripeness and the tim­ing of the trans­for­ma­tion and fil­ter­ing oper­a­tions, which are car­ried out in a low-tem­per­a­ture envi­ron­ment imme­di­ately after har­vest­ing,” Hiraiwa said.

Among the secrets employed by Hiraiwa to pro­duce his award-win­ning olive oil is to apply olive water and com­post made by fer­ment­ing the pruned olive branches to our orchards, which is also one of the few meth­ods of cir­cu­lar olive farm­ing in Japan.”

With more than 70 years of olive grow­ing expe­ri­ence, Nippon Olive Company once again won two Gold Awards at the NYIOOC for its Ushimado and its Ushimado Superior brands.


Photo: Nippon Olive Company

I believe Ushimado Superior has great poten­tial on the inter­na­tional mar­ket,” Kenichi Nakagawa, head of olive oil research at the com­pany, told Olive Oil Times.

Our work is exclu­sively focused on qual­ity, and that is true for the whole pro­duc­tion process, from olive grow­ing to har­vest­ing, and the choice of the rightly-ripened fruits to the process of trans­for­ma­tion, which is con­stantly updated,” he added.

Similar to Agri Olive Shodoshima, the Nippon Olive Company spe­cial­izes in cul­ti­vat­ing tra­di­tional Mediterranean vari­eties.

Ushimado Superior is a medium blend of Mission, Nevadillo Blanco and Lucca olives, while Ushimado is a medium blend of Arbequina, Mission, Manzanillo, Lucca and Nevadillo Blanco olives.

We grow sev­eral cul­ti­vars, and that allows us to choose the right har­vest­ing moment for each one of them,” Nakagawa said, adding that this is no easy task due to Japan’s unique cli­mate.

Last year, we had too much rain­fall, so it was not easy to har­vest; there are times when rain­fall heav­ily con­di­tions har­vest­ing times,” Nakagawa said. Excessive rain­fall may also influ­ence the final taste of olive oil.”

For Nakagawa and the rest of the team behind the Nippon Olive Company, win­ning awards at the NYIOOC has a pro­found impact on the brand.

We do not feel like we are chal­leng­ing other com­pa­nies; we feel that the NYIOOC is a com­pe­ti­tion that can help us make an even bet­ter olive oil,” Nakagawa said. When we look at the NYIOOC results, we under­stand that our work with our best olive oils are head­ing in the right direc­tion.”

From the 2021 NYIOOC, we can expe­ri­ence and taste other top-of-class olive oils and study their char­ac­ter­is­tics,” he added.

Along with learn­ing from their mis­takes and suc­cesses, the com­pe­ti­tion has also helped the Nippon Olive Company expand its cus­tomer base.

And that hap­pens because olive oil is spread­ing in the Japanese home and influ­enc­ing Japanese lifestyle, becom­ing more and more pop­u­lar for its healthy qual­i­ties,” Nakagawa said.

Japan’s other multi-award-win­ning pro­ducer was Crea Farm, which earned two Silver Awards for a mono­va­ri­etal Koroneiki and Coratina.


Crea Farm olive groves. OOT Archive.

The com­pany has now been awarded at the NYIOOC for three con­sec­u­tive years, which makes the pro­duc­ers espe­cially proud due to the par­tic­u­lar chal­lenges faced by the trees, which grow in the shadow of Mount Fuji.

When I started grow­ing olives, I was instructed to cul­ti­vate robust root sys­tems that could with­stand the strong wind, heavy rain and typhoons,” Tatsuya Okumura, the com­pa­ny’s senior man­ag­ing direc­tor, told Olive Oil Times.

Comparing to tra­di­tional olive-grow­ing coun­tries, the weather here means heav­ier rain­fall and typhoons from sum­mer to autumn,” he added. It has been sev­eral years since we began olive cul­ti­va­tion, and I think good results have been achieved.”

Okumura said that 2020 had been an excel­lent year for Crea Farm, in part due to the reduced num­ber of typhoons that the area expe­ri­enced.

The vol­ume of our yields has increased over the years,” Okumura said. Still, cli­mate change is here. I think that it is felt not only by olive grow­ers but also by the gen­eral pub­lic liv­ing in the city.”

I have done a busi­ness con­ti­nu­ity plan because all I can do against nat­ural threats is pre­dic­tion and coun­ter­mea­sures,” he added.

Another chal­lenge that Crea Farm had to take on in the early years of pro­duc­tion was the choice of cul­ti­vars since not all olive vari­eties can adapt to such a harsh envi­ron­ment. Twelve Italian and Spanish vari­eties are at the heart of Crea Farm’s suc­cess.

Looking at the growth and the yields, the vari­eties I have selected seem to have adapted to my land and the farm­ing very well,” Okumura said. On the other hand, there are some vari­a­tions in growth in the newly planted areas.”

I think it is nec­es­sary to estab­lish a cul­ti­va­tion method that suits each grow­ing area based on the dif­fer­ent soil types,” he added.

His results at the NYIOOC and those of his com­pa­tri­ots also have Okumura feel­ing opti­mistic about the future of olive oil pro­duc­tion in Japan.

Due to the depth of inter­est in not only Western food but also Japanese food, the pro­por­tion of olive oil among imported oils has been the high­est in the house­hold oil and fat mar­ket for sev­eral years,” he said.

I believe that this trend will con­tinue in the future,” Okumura con­cluded. In addi­tion to using olive oil as it is, prod­uct devel­op­ment such as fish and veg­eta­bles packed in olive oil are also get­ting more atten­tion.”


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