Tracking the Rise of Olive Oil in Japan

The rising quantity and quality of olive oil production in Japan presents opportunities for local farmers as well as European exporters.

(Photo: Crea Farm)
By Christopher Argentino
Jun. 12, 2023 10:44 UTC
(Photo: Crea Farm)

With a rich his­tory that dates back to the Edo Period, which ended in 1867, the Japanese olive oil indus­try has wit­nessed remark­able growth and suc­cess, defy­ing the unique chal­lenges posed by the coun­try’s envi­ron­ment and weather con­di­tions.

Driven by surg­ing demand and evolv­ing con­sump­tion pat­terns, many pro­duc­ers in the world’s eleventh most pop­u­lous coun­try and third largest econ­omy have embraced olive cul­ti­va­tion.

Rising inter­est in olive farm­ing can be mea­sured by increased entries to the world’s largest olive oil qual­ity con­test, the NYIOOC World Olive Oil Competition, and the growth of the local Olive Japan con­test.

See Also:Japan May Recognize Some PDO and PGI Olive Oils from European Countries

Since 2015, the num­ber of entries from and awards for Japanese pro­duc­ers at the NYIOOC has steadily increased, ris­ing from a sin­gle entry in the third edi­tion of the con­test to 10 in 2023.

The 2023 edi­tion of Olive Japan also served as a pow­er­ful plat­form for Japanese pro­duc­ers to show­case their olive oil to a domes­tic audi­ence, fur­ther cement­ing their posi­tion in the global mar­ket.

While expect­ing these young pio­neers to con­cen­trate on olive cul­ti­va­tion and pro­cess­ing olive oil, the cost issues should be the next obsta­cles after envi­ron­men­tal con­trol,” said Toshiya Tada, Olive Japan’s gen­eral direc­tor.

While Shodoshima Island, nes­tled in the idyl­lic Setonaikai Sea, remains the lead­ing hub with over 30 ded­i­cated pro­duc­ers con­tribut­ing to more than 95 per­cent of the coun­try’s total pro­duc­tion vol­ume, the olive oil pro­duc­ers in Japan have also started to explore other regions.

The Kyushu area closely fol­lows suit with 11 promi­nent pro­duc­ers, and emerg­ing pro­duc­ers have been mak­ing their mark in regions such as Kagawa and Okayama, lead­ing to a vis­i­ble diver­si­fi­ca­tion of pro­duc­tion sites.

Although the esti­mated olive pro­duc­tion in Japan amounts to approx­i­mately 600 tons, result­ing in around 30 tons of olive oil, the pres­ence of nearly 100 pro­duc­ers nation­wide sig­ni­fies a bur­geon­ing inter­est and active par­tic­i­pa­tion within the indus­try.

Olive farms have sprouted nation­wide, pri­mar­ily man­aged by small-scale pro­duc­ers, includ­ing retired indi­vid­u­als and ambi­tious young pio­neers dri­ven by a pas­sion for excel­lence.

Crea Farm in Shizuoka pre­fec­ture has gar­nered sig­nif­i­cant recog­ni­tion and suc­cess among the ris­ing Japanese olive oil indus­try lead­ers.

The farm has ded­i­cated over 10 hectares to cul­ti­vat­ing olive trees in the foothills of the majes­tic Mount Fuji, result­ing in an impres­sive annual pro­duc­tion of 30 tons of olives.


(Photo: Kyoto Prefecture)

Takeda Olive Farm, located in north­ern Kyoto Prefecture, has emerged as a notable con­tender despite the chal­lenges pre­sented by heavy snow­fall dur­ing win­ter, show­cas­ing their unwa­ver­ing ded­i­ca­tion with over 2 hectares of olive cul­ti­va­tion.

The rough aver­age sales price of Shodoshima-made extra vir­gin olive oil is over $60 per 250 mil­li­liters, less com­pet­i­tive than imported Spanish pre­mium extra vir­gin olive oil,” Tada said.

However, as the indus­try flour­ishes, Japanese pro­duc­ers face sig­nif­i­cant cost-related obsta­cles. The aver­age sales price of Shodoshima-made olive oil makes it less com­pet­i­tive than imported Spanish olive oils.

To over­come this chal­lenge, young pio­neers and estab­lished pro­duc­ers are actively striv­ing to enhance envi­ron­men­tal con­trol mea­sures and imple­ment cost-effec­tive strate­gies in cul­ti­va­tion and pro­cess­ing tech­niques.

The growth of domes­tic com­pe­ti­tions and increas­ing awards on the inter­na­tional stage rep­re­sent cru­cial mile­stones for the Japanese olive oil indus­try, pro­vid­ing recog­ni­tion and a major plat­form for pro­mo­tion.

With increas­ing par­tic­i­pa­tion, refined cul­ti­va­tion tech­niques and a grow­ing con­sumer base, Japan’s olive oil indus­try is poised to sus­tain its flour­ish­ing tra­jec­tory well into the future.


Promoting Japanese olive oil in Europe at the Very International Marche event

In Japan, the annual domes­tic pro­duc­tion of olive oil was lim­ited to about 45 tons in 2020, mak­ing the coun­try reliant on imports to meet the demand of its con­sumers.

In 2020 alone, Japan imported about 70,000 tons of olive oil, with the European Union being the pri­mary sup­plier, account­ing for 96 per­cent of the total imports. Spain and Italy, the lead­ing E.U. exporters, dom­i­nate the mar­ket, boast­ing a com­bined mar­ket share of about 94 per­cent.

Despite start­ing rel­a­tively low, olive oil con­sump­tion in Japan has been steadily grow­ing, reach­ing approx­i­mately 0.57 kilo­grams per capita in 2019.

The ris­ing trend can be attrib­uted to the increas­ing pop­u­lar­ity of Mediterranean cui­sine in Japan since the early 1990s and the grow­ing aware­ness of the health ben­e­fits of olive oil.

Over the past decade, extra vir­gin olive oil imports have more than dou­bled, cap­tur­ing a 77 per­cent share of total imports in 2020.

However, due to the Covid-19 pan­demic, imports expe­ri­enced a tem­po­rary decline of about 4 per­cent that year. Despite the decline, house­hold con­sump­tion increased as more peo­ple turned to home cook­ing, par­tially com­pen­sat­ing for the neg­a­tive impact on the food ser­vice sec­tor.

Japan’s retail seg­ment of the olive oil mar­ket is expected to con­tinue its growth tra­jec­tory, pre­sent­ing lucra­tive oppor­tu­ni­ties for European small and medium-sized enter­prises (SMEs) inter­ested in enter­ing the Japanese mar­ket.

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