Foreign visitors returning to Japan, pushing up demand for wagyu restaurants

 Foreign tourists enjoy grilled Hida beef in Takayama, Gifu Prefecture.

Foreign tourists enjoy grilled Hida beef in Takayama, Gifu Prefecture.

TOKYO, May 8 — Japan is seeing a pickup in demand for brand wagyu beef along with a sharp increase in foreign tourists, brought about by eased border controls.

Some yakiniku grilled beef restaurants say 80 percent of their customers are travelers from foreign countries.

The high demand for wagyu beef is having a positive impact also on markets for beef carcasses and calves nationwide which have been hit by the COVID-19 pandemic and inflation, leading to growing expectations in breeding regions for a further boost.

80 percent of customers

In the Hida-Takayama district in Gifu Prefecture, a popular tourist destination for travelers at home and abroad, restaurants and meat shops selling the local specialty Hida beef are seen along the streets leading from JR Takayama Station in the city of Takayama to old town areas.

In addition to the recovery in the number of domestic tourists, many inbound travelers are flocking to the district.

In late afternoon of a weekday in mid-April, Niku no Takumiya Yasugawa-ten grilled beef restaurant in Takayama was bustling with foreign tourists who came to enjoy the food.

A woman from Lithuania who was visiting the restaurant with three family members was all smiles as she tasted grilled Hida beef she ordered.

Ajikura Tengoku, a grilled beef restaurant located in front of Hida Station, is also popular among foreign tourists.

Inbound tourists currently occupy around 80 percent of the customers at the restaurant, run by JA Hida group, a local agricultural cooperative.

Rising carcass prices

Due to increasing orders from restaurants and inns, prices of beef carcasses have been rising constantly since February.

The weighted average price of castrated wagyu male cattle carcass rated A5, the highest grade, traded at the Hida regional wholesale meat market in April was 3,446 yen per kilogram, up 3 percent from the previous month.

“Market prices were maintained even during the COVID-19 pandemic as we tapped new household demand, and the prices are now rising due to the recovery in foreign demand,” said an official of JA Hida Meat, a local farm coop handling meat products.

A cattle-fattening farmer of Takayama said, “Although we are in a tough situation because of high feed prices, we are grateful because we believe beef prices will go up if inbound tourism picks up steam.”

Prices are rising also for Kobe beef, a brand enjoying outstanding popularity abroad.

According to JA Zen-Noh Hyogo, an agricultural cooperative in Hyogo Prefecture, the market price of Kobe beef carcass was 3,782 yen per kg excluding tax according to the preliminary data as of April 21, up 16 percent from the same month last year.

“In addition to extra orders made for the (Golden Week) holidays, the rise in inbound demand is pushing up prices,” said an official of JA Zen-Noh Hyogo.

Chinese tourists

The number of foreign visitors in March was estimated to be roughly 1.82 million, recovering to around 60 percent of pre-pandemic levels.

“If group tours from China are resumed, it will further boost wagyu consumption,” said a meat wholesaler in western Japan.

The industry is pinning high hopes on the recent upsurge in wagyu consumption in tourist areas spreading nationwide.

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