Japan - Country Commercial Guide
Agricultural Sector

This is a best prospect industry sector for this country. Includes a market overview and trade data.

Last published date: 2020-10-30

Overview
In 2019, Japan was the fourth largest single-country export market for U.S. agricultural products, valued at nearly $11.7 billion. The United States is the largest supplier of food and agricultural products to Japan with a 24 percent share of total imports, followed by the European Union, China, Australia, and Thailand.  Japan is the largest export market for U.S. beef and pork valued at $3.5 billion and the second largest market for U.S. corn valued at $2 billion.  The largest export growth in 2019 was seen in hay and rice, up $64 million and $43 million, respectively. Additionally, exports of soybeans, wine and beer, and live animals increased $37 million, $20 million, and $15 million, respectively.

Following implementation of the U.S.-Japan Trade Agreement (USJTA) on January 1, 2020, nearly 90 percent of U.S. food and agricultural products are now duty free or receive preferential tariff access.  Importantly, the agreement provided tariff parity for most products with the European Union and member countries of the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP).  Further information on the agreement is available at www.usdajapan.org/usjta.

Beginning in February 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic resulted in a dramatic fall in restaurant and hotel food service sales as schools closed, tourism halted, and public outings were greatly reduced. Conversely, there was a significant boost to retail sales at supermarkets, with year-over-year monthly totals up 20 to 30 percent for most major chains.

For additional information, please visit the website of USDA’s Foreign Agricultural Service (FAS) at www.fas.usda.gov or FAS’s Tokyo Office of Agricultural Affairs at www.usdajapan.org.

Opportunities

Opportunities exist for a range of agricultural products, in particular, processed and consumer-ready foods. Japan is the largest market in Asia for U.S. consumer-ready products. In order for U.S. companies to tap into this dynamic market, they should be aware of several key trends affecting food purchases. These include a heavy dependence on imported food items; a diversification of eating habits; declining family size and increased labor force participation by women- both supporting increased demand for convenient/ready-to-eat meal options; a rapidly aging population; high expectations for product quality; and widespread preoccupation with food safety.

Potential exporters interested in learning more about the Japanese market may wish to consider attending or exhibiting at one of the large annual trade shows in Japan:  the Supermarket Trade Show and FOODEX Japan. For more information on the market, see the FAS Japan Exporter Guide (https://www.fas.usda.gov/data/japan-exporter-guide-3) or contact the Agricultural Trade Office in Tokyo at ATOTokyo@usda.gov.

Leading Sub-Sectors

According to Japan’s National Institute of Population and Social Security Research, by 2025, 30 percent of the population will be 65 years of age or older. Coupled with the fact that Japanese life expectancy is the highest in the world, this creates a strong demand for “healthy foods.” Foods that offer specific health benefits, such as reducing cholesterol, or containing high levels of antioxidants are well received in the Japanese marketplace. Concepts such as “functional food” are well understood by consumers and products certified by the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare as FOSHU (Food for Specific Health Use) are commonly consumed.  Local supermarkets frequently carry an assortment of functional foods that include energy drinks, nutritional dense snack bars, and pre-prepared snacks with dried fruit and nuts. 

With the aging of the population, decline in family size, increased participation of women in the labor force, and declining marriage rate, Japanese people are increasingly less likely to eat meals prepared at home. As a result, sales of ready-to-eat meals - already common in Japan, and critical to the profitability of both traditional retail and the booming convenience store segments - continue their strong growth. These sales are complemented by the growth in institutional catering serving schools, hospitals, and the elderly with pre-prepared meals which are generally served in a traditional bento box combining a main dish (meat, fish, tofu, etc.) with rice and vegetables.   

Since the 1960s, the Japanese diet has become more diverse. Both traditionally western dietary items (e.g. bread, dairy) and meat have become increasingly prominent in the Japanese diet while traditional items such as fish, tofu, and rice are gradually declining. Recent years have seen an enormous expansion in inbound tourism to Japan which has also contributed to an increasingly diverse culinary scene. In major urban areas, a broad panorama of international foods is available not only in restaurants, but increasingly in supermarkets and convenience stores as well.

Food Trade Shows

In addition to the FAS Office of Agricultural Affairs in Tokyo, USDA’s Foreign Agricultural Service also maintains two Agricultural Trade Offices (ATOs) in Japan: one in Osaka and the other in Tokyo. These offices provide market familiarization services to potential U.S. exporters including background information on their market sectors, suggestions on potential Japanese partners and support in attending Japan-based trade shows. The food and agri-business sector in Japan is very competitive and participation in trade shows is generally regarded as a good avenue for companies to learn about and gain exposure to the Japan marketplace. Every year, the ATOs host USA Pavilions at the Supermarket Trade Show (in February) and FOODEX Japan (in March)—two of the largest annual food-related trade shows in Asia, both in Tokyo. In addition, a number of smaller, and more focused, shows target sectors such as the wine, organics, seafood and bakery industries. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the FOODEX Japan 2020 and many subsequent shows were canceled.  For more information, feel free to contact the Agricultural Trade Office in Tokyo at ATOTokyo@usda.gov.

Web Resources
FAS Japan Exporter Guide
USDA’s Foreign Agricultural Service/Japan
The Supermarket Trade Show - Held annually in February at Makuhari Messe Convention Center on the outskirts of Tokyo.
FOODEX Japan - Held annually in March at Makuhari Messe Convention Center on the outskirts of Tokyo.