The Japanese have a well-deserved reputation for being picky consumers, particularly when it comes to eating. When the weekly “be between” survey in the Asahi Shimbun (18 November) asked its participants, “Are you very concerned about where food products originate?”, out of the 1,699 valid responses, 83% replied that they were, as opposed to 17% who were not.
Among those who scrutinise product labels—or ask vendors—to ascertain where merchandise is produced, the first four entries on the list of items for which they do this were fresh goods, specifically vegetables (1,217 respondents), followed by meat (1,136); fish and other seafood (982); fruit (979); and rice (858). The numbers declined sharply after that: frozen food (547); milk and other dairy products (501); and eggs (429).
The top three reasons stated by the respondents for interest in the source were: “I want to have reassurance over the production process” (891 replies); “sensitive about use of pesticides and additives” (809); and “want to show support for producers in a particular region” (452).
Regarding specific concerns about imported food items, the points singled out, in declining order, were: country or region of origin (1,387); safety of the production process (607); clear description of contents (555); impact of environmental pollution (496); price (398); freshness (376); familiarity with the brand (213); and name of the manufacturer (196).
“Japan’s food standards are also applied to imports, and Japan monitors what enters to a high level”, a 71-year-old man in Yamaguchi Prefecture remarked, adding, “Sanitation conditions at food and beverage businesses are more important”.
The survey respondents were also asked to reply to the question, “Aside from the locale, what other factors influence your purchasing decisions?” The top 10 responses were: price (1,332); freshness (1,149); expiration date (919); good taste (910); avoidance of agricultural pesticides and additives (896); volume (445); healthiness (261); manufacturer or seller (228); nutrition data (including calories) (210); and familiarity or brand (169).
Some people react to what they read on produce labels with surprise verging on astonishment.
“I felt shocked the first time I noticed green beans from Oman”, a Hokkaido woman in her sixties told the paper. “I actually blurted out, ‘They’ve come such a long way’”.
With Japan’s self-sufficiency ratio for foodstuffs, on a calorie basis, being less than 40%, one never knows what types of imports might show up on shop shelves.