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Interview: Masayuki Yamashita

Aiming for a greater share of the global market 


As Japanese cuisine begins to draw global attention following its recognition by UNESCO as an element of Intangible Cultural Heritage, the Japanese government and people alike are working together to bring Japan's food culture and industries to the world at large. We sat down with Masayuki Yamashita, Director-General of the Food Industry Affairs Bureau at the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (MAFF), to ask him about the strategies Japan is deploying to reach global markets.

Japanese food is enjoying renewed interest around the globe. What changes will we see coming out of this latest UNESCO recognition?
The original objective behind UNESCO recognition was for Japanese people to take a fresh look at our own culture and think about how to preserve it for generations to come. It was widely covered in the media, so the news has drawn considerable attention within the country. We feel this has begun to pave the way for a fresh reappraisal of Japanese cuisine. At the same time, this has overlapped with a global trend favoring Japanese food, which presents a business opportunity for Japanese cuisine. Japanese restaurants overseas are on the rise: there were 55,000 shops as of 2013, while in the same year Japan exported about $5.5 billion in agricultural, forestry, fishery and food products, its highest total ever.

In terms of strategies to promote Japanese food culture, what concrete policies and targets have been implemented by the current administration?
Numerous efforts are underway to promote Japanese cuisine. By partnering with industry, we're aiming for a global rollout of the Japanese food industry and increased exports of agricultural, forestry, fishery and food products. Our goal is to secure the place of Japanese food in the global market, pushing a strategy founded on three core pillars: 'Made From Japan,' 'Made By Japan' and 'Made In Japan.' We call this our 'FBI strategy,' for 'from,' 'by' and 'in.'

'Made From Japan' involves the global culinary world using Japanese ingredients. 'Made By Japan' is our global rollout of Japanese food culture and food industries. We're hosting small seminars overseas to train experts and relaxing visa requirements for chefs seeking to study abroad in Japan. 'Made In Japan' concerns our export strategy. We are aiming to expand exports of agricultural, forestry, fishery and food products from 2013's $5.5 billion to $10 billion by 2020.

As Japanese food becomes increasingly well-known overseas, what do you see as key concerns going forward?
We welcome Japanese food intermingling with the local food culture of each region and fusing with regional diets. At the same time, foods like sushi and sashimi, pillars of Japanese cuisine, require special expertise and handling, such as the regular replacement of chopping boards to ensure a hygienic cutting surface. We feel this knowledge of food safety and hygiene goes hand-in-hand with Japanese food culture, so it's vital we share this knowledge overseas.

What steps is the administration taking to promote Japanese food at home in Japan?
Using the UNESCO designation as a starting point, we want to increase Japanese people's awareness of our native food culture through seminars on food, symposia on regional Japanese cuisine and other events geared at both consumers and those in the food industry. Japanese cuisine is nutritiously balanced, and we want to promote these benefits at nationwide events. We also want children – the future stewards of this country – to continue to appreciate Japanese culinary traditions, so we're promoting serving traditional Japanese food for school lunches. By raising domestic awareness in this way, we want to be poised for the 2020 Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games and, true to the 'omotenashi' spirit of Japanese hospitality, convey the charms of Japanese food to our guests from overseas. It's our fervent hope that they'll be able to enjoy the delicious flavor and joy that come with eating this epitome of food.

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