For five days in late April, Tokyo was home to a whirlwind of olive-related activity. The Olive Japan 2013 International Extra Virgin Olive Oil Competition judging, followed by the Olive Japan Trade Show and accompanying symposium and seminars, focused attention on olive oil quality in the world’s fourth largest import market for olive oil.

Fifteen judges spent three days in a hotel banquet room judging 280 entries from 21 countries. Nine premier medals were awarded, going to Almazara de Muela – Mueloliva Picudo (Spain), Ríncon de la Subbética Alamoda (Spain), Aroden S.A.T. – Cladivm (Spain), Marqués de Griñón – Oleum Artis (Spain), Azienda Agricola Contessa Elena – L’Arte dell Olivo Tuscany (Italy), Azienda Agricola Villa Zottopera (Italy), Olio Torchia (Italy), Gallo Colheita Luar (Portugal) and Gallo Reserva (Portugal).

Japanese olive oil producers made a fine showing, with gold medals going to Agri-Olive Shodoshima, Shodoshima Oliva Ya, Iiji Olive Mission and Lucca, Yamasan Shodoshima Organic, Olive Park Shodoshima, Kyudenko KK Avilo Amakusa Limited Edition, Olive En 1st Origin, Sorai Farm Shodoshima and Souju Mission. The full Olive Japan Competition results can be viewed here.

In his introductory remarks to the judges, Olive Japan Chairman Toshiya Tada described the philosophy behind the competition. “The most important function of the Olive Japan competition is to give the consumer a clear indicator of quality in the Japanese olive oil market.” There are no specific standards for olive oil in Japan; olive oil is lumped together with other vegetable oils for purposes of regulation.

Each table of judges was composed with an eye to the balance of Old World, New World, Asia, Northern Hemisphere and Southern Hemisphere. Dr. Antonio Giuseppe Lauro, IOC Panel Leader from Calabria, Italy, and veteran judge observed, “There was no difference from table to table; the judging seemed very consistent.” Of the 280 entries, 189 were awarded Silver, Gold or Premier Medals.

Dr. Agusti Romero, olive oil researcher at IRTA (Institute of Agricultural-Alimentary Research and Technology) in Catalonia, Spain—one of the developers of the Mario Solinas profile sheet used in many olive oil competitions around the world—shared with others the opinion that the oils overall were very good, and had arrived at the competition in fine condition.

Dr. Romero mentioned the stimulating professional discussions that took place among the judges. Romero noted, “It was very interesting to taste with panelists from other countries and to discuss attributes. I learned that we think in a common language—not just general quality but also the details.” Dr. Richard Gawel, longtime chairman of the Australian National EVOO Competition and panel leader, also commented on the collegial atmosphere, appreciating “the ability to work as a team. We didn’t always agree, but we respected each others’ opinions, and I think that’s the key to results that truly reflect the quality of the oils.”

The second critical function of the organizing body of Olive Japan, the Olive Oil Sommelier Association of Japan, is to promote education for the consumer through their more than 600 graduates and events such as the Olive Japan Marché and seminars. This year the audience at the Olive Japan Marché was estimated at 170,000 people over the two days. The number of exhibitors, 49, was almost double last year. The Olive Ambassador 2013 was Japanese-Argentine supermodel Karen Michibata who was featured in the television coverage of the event.

Appearances by Jinguji Osamu, drummer from the rock band Remioromen was a big draw for young people. The very young set had their photos taken with Kumamon, the cartoon bear mascot of Kumamoto Prefecture. Cooking and olive oil tasting events also took the stage and were well-attended.

This year the Olive Japan event included an educational program aimed at people in the olive oil trade. On Saturday was the Olive Summit Symposium, starting with a keynote address by Tom Mueller, whose book Extra Virginity: The Sublime and Scandalous World of Olive Oil was recently released in Japanese. Mueller highlighted the natural match between the high quality Japanese approach to food and high quality olive oil. In addition he spoke of his time with olive people in Japan and the high quality already achieved by its small but influential industry.

Liz Tagami of Tagami International gave insights into the future of olive oil marketing. Building on the current high profile of olive oil for health and questions of traceability and fraud, Tagami discussed some trends that are likely to impact olive oil. The agrarian and artisanal movement will fuel interest in the people and practices behind extra virgin olive oil brands. The changing demographics of the buying public will also impact marketing as Millennials and Moderns represent an increasing market share.

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