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Eight Japanese Olive Oils Among This Year's Top-Rated Brands

Japanese producers enjoyed a record-breaking year at the World Olive Oil Competition, proving that one of the newest frontiers in olive cultivation can compete with the rest.
Mt. Fuji (Photo: Crea Farm)
Jun. 30, 2020
Paolo DeAndreis

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Grow­ing aware­ness in Japan about the health ben­e­fits of olive oil is fuel­ing a robust mar­ket for local grow­ers, some of whom are also gain­ing world­wide atten­tion for their high-qual­ity prod­ucts.

Pro­duc­ers from the East Asian nation earned a record-high eight awards at the 2020 NYIOOC World Olive Oil Com­pe­ti­tion, includ­ing four Gold and four Sil­ver Awards.

It is believed that peo­ple stay healthy by eat­ing local food, so I hope my extra vir­gin olive oil can be enjoyed by peo­ple who appre­ci­ate our spe­cific envi­ron­ment.- Kai Kato, owner, Green Bas­ket Japan

Among the win­ners of the world’s most pres­ti­gious olive oil qual­ity com­pe­ti­tion was Green Bas­ket Japan, which took home its third con­sec­u­tive Gold Award for its Any Vari­eties Blend brand.

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Green Basket Japan

Kai Kato, the company’s owner, told Olive Oil Times that win­ning the award holds a great deal of mean­ing to both him­self and the com­pany, in part due to the unique loca­tion of the olive groves, which are sit­u­ated in Odawara and Minami-Ashigara, close to Tokyo.

See more: The Best Olive Oils from Japan

“[They] rep­re­sent, in many ways, fron­tier lands for olive grow­ing in Japan,” he said. To grow olives here, I researched var­i­ous olive tree vari­eties that thrive in sim­i­lar chal­leng­ing cli­mates.”

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Since we had lit­tle access to pro­fes­sion­als and the lat­est stud­ies about olive grow­ing in Japan, we had to go on by our­selves,” Kato added.

As a result, the com­pany cul­ti­vates Lec­cino, Mis­sion, Kala­mata and Halkidiki trees, blend­ing the result­ing olive yields to make a world-class prod­uct.

But my goal is to bot­tle mono­va­ri­etals, so as to pro­duce olive oils that are able to fully rep­re­sent the idio­syn­crasies of each vari­ety when grown on our lands,” Kato said.

Kato, who started his adven­ture in olive oil pro­duc­tion about nine years ago, has poured his phi­los­o­phy into his oils.

It all began because my par­ents man­aged an Ital­ian restau­rant in Odawara and olive oil was always on the table,” he said. Since child­hood, I was absorbed by things that do not give easy answers. Olive grow­ing is one of them.”

Kato added that he is also dri­ven by a Bud­dhist con­cept known as Shindo-fuji.

Peo­ple can­not be sep­a­rated from the envi­ron­ment of the region they live in, as well as from its prod­ucts,” he said. It is believed that peo­ple stay healthy by eat­ing local food, so I hope my extra vir­gin olive oil can be enjoyed by peo­ple who appre­ci­ate our spe­cific envi­ron­ment.”

Among Japan’s other win­ning pro­duc­ers was the Eta­jima Olive Com­pany, which earned a Gold and Sil­ver Award for a pair of del­i­cate blends.

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Etajima Olive

The farm oper­ates not far from Hiroshima, in the south of the coun­try, and rep­re­sents the suc­cess of a project ded­i­cated to agri­cul­tural inno­va­tion.

We started grow­ing olives about 10 years ago, a project born from the sup­port of the Eta­jima city and the local farm­ers,” Toru Yam­aguchi, the sales man­ager of the com­pany, told Olive Oil Times. The goal was to restore, reuse and re-cul­ti­vate aban­doned farm fields.”

We used to see a lot of Mikan Japan­ese orange farm­ing in the area, but the younger gen­er­a­tions began to move to the big cities look­ing for a bet­ter income,” he added. More recently, with the help of the local com­mu­nity, we set up this new project to revi­tal­ize our land and make it more attrac­tive for young­sters.”

The Eta­jima Olive Com­pany grows trees of sev­eral dif­fer­ent vari­eties, includ­ing Mis­sion, Lucca and Nevadillo Blanco, all of which are used for the Eta­jima blends.

We also grow Coratina, Fran­toio, Lec­cino but those trees are still very young,” Yam­aguchi said.

The farm pro­duces its olive oil at its own two-phase mill, where oil is extracted just a few hours after har­vest­ing. Yam­aguchi said that he is always look­ing for a fresh and green taste from his oils, allow­ing them to com­ple­ment the fla­vors of Japan­ese foods.

Sit­u­ated about 90 miles south­west of Tokyo, in the shadow of the iconic Mount Fuji, sits Crea Farm, another of the win­ning Japan­ese pro­duc­ers.

Tat­suya Oku­mura, the company’s senior man­ag­ing direc­tor, told Olive Oil Times that earn­ing a Sil­ver Award at the 2020 NYIOOC put the five-year-old brand right on course with where it is meant to be.

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Crea Farm

From the begin­ning, we aimed at a reg­u­lar annual pro­duc­tion of high-qual­ity olive oil that could be rec­og­nized at inter­na­tional com­pe­ti­tions,” Oku­maru said. With the sup­port of our expe­ri­enced advi­sors, we took on sev­eral chal­lenges pro­vided by our unique cli­mate.”

Oku­maru added that the idea for Crea Farm extra vir­gin olive oil came right as Japan’s food cul­ture was rapidly West­ern­iz­ing. 

Olive oil use has been increas­ing quickly, but most of the imported prod­ucts lacked fresh­ness,” Oku­mura said. We had trav­eled in the Mediter­ranean coun­tries and the taste of freshly pro­duced olive oil shocked us.”

In a project to revi­tal­ize the region, we began our adven­ture, invit­ing promi­nent experts from over­seas, invest­ing in the lat­est tech­nolo­gies and focus­ing on giv­ing our­selves an olive oil cul­tural base that is lack­ing in Japan,” Oku­mura added.

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Crea Farm

The farm is cur­rently exper­i­ment­ing with 12 dif­fer­ent Ital­ian and Span­ish olive vari­eties, all of which are closely mon­i­tored to see how they adapt to the local weather.

Given our cli­mate and the risk of severe storms, we paid a lot of atten­tion to soil prepa­ra­tion and estab­lish­ing strong root sys­tems for the trees, in order to limit dam­age to the farm caused by the annual typhoons,” Oku­mura said. We have imple­mented a man­age­ment sys­tem to mon­i­tor and learn from the trees’ behav­ior.”

While newly founded and young farms rep­re­sent the major­ity of Japan­ese olive oil pro­duc­ers, the 2020 NYIOOC panel of judges also rec­og­nized the world-class qual­ity of two prod­ucts from the Nip­pon Olive Com­pany, which boasts more than 70 years of expe­ri­ence.

The Okayama-based pro­duc­ers won a Gold and a Sil­ver Award, for Ushi­mado and Ushi­mado Supe­rior, respec­tively. The two medium blends are mostly made from Span­ish vari­eties grown on the hills of Ushi­mado.

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Crea Farm

We began grow­ing olives in 1942 and since 1949 the com­pany started its busi­ness focus­ing on the pro­duc­tion and sale of olive oil for cos­met­ics,” prod­uct man­ager, Yasuhiro Yoshida, and head of the research, Kenichi Nak­a­gawa, told Olive Oil Times. In those years, there was high demand for olive oil because of the many short­ages the coun­try faced.”

We are proud of the qual­ity of our olive oil,” Yoshida added. We are con­stantly work­ing to improve both test­ing and press­ing tech­niques. Our founder defined olive oil as a unique com­bi­na­tion of taste, med­i­cine and health.”

Ushi­mado extra vir­gin olive oil has been pro­duced by the com­pany since 1995 and it has been bot­tled and dis­trib­uted every year since 2005.

We know the char­ac­ter­is­tics of our olive tree vari­eties, includ­ing Mis­sion, Nevadillo Blanco or Man­zanillo,” Nak­a­gawa said. We invest in mon­i­tor­ing the groves, hand­pick­ing the olives and check­ing each olive before press­ing.”

We have pro­fes­sional tasters in our team to check every sin­gle lot as it is pressed so that we can choose the best one to pro­duce our blends from the dif­fer­ent vari­eties,” he added.


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