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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