Relaxed visa requirements, a growing middle class with a large disposable income and the expansion of low-cost carriers has yielded a boom in visitors from Muslim south-east Asian citizens, emanating from countries such as Indonesia, Malaysia and Brunei.
Indeed, during April, visitors from Malaysia were up 14% year-on-year, according to data from JTB Tourism Research and Consulting Co.
Japan’s restaurateurs and caterers have embraced the trend by offering halal meat products, pushing producers to meet demand.
Zenkai Meat Co, in Kyushu island’s Kumamoto Prefecture, has reported greater demand for its halal wagyu from barbecue restaurants and hotels across Japan.
Meanwhile, Nishiawa Beef Co, in Tokushima Prefecture, near Osaka, is rearing wagyu cattle on its farm before processing on-site.
Spokespeople from both firms attributed the demand for their halal wagyu to the growing awareness and appreciation of wagyu among Muslim consumers internationally.
With Tokyo hosting the summer Olympic and Paralympic Games in 2020, demand is expected to continue to rise. CrescentRating, an authority on halal tourism, has predicted that Japan will welcome one million Muslim tourists annually by 2020, which would equate to a growth rate of 18.7% over the 2013-2020 period.
Local governments are determined to be ready.
Tokyo’s Taito Ward (a local government unit) has been running a subsidy programme for local businesses to become certified as halal since 2015. By March 2018, 23 shops and restaurants had been certified, creating a larger market for halal wagyu sales.
It is a welcome move for producers, but challenges remain.
“People in Japan are getting more familiar with the word ‘halal’ but not necessarily what it means,” said Nishiawa Beef spokesperson Toshimitsu Nakatani.
Shoji Hada, chief executive of Zenkai Meat, agreed that more education about halal was necessary. He added that his firm was “struggling to compete on price with the existing distribution network for imported halal meat” but added that Muslim people’s wish to eat wagyu was driving growth.
Producers also expect growth of halal wagyu exports following Malaysia’s lift of a seven-year ban on Japanese beef exports, in November 2017.
Nishiawa Beef and Zenkai Beef are among six plants certified to produce halal meat for Malaysia, Indonesia, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar and Bahrain, according to Japan’s Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries.
The two companies’ exports to Malaysia (since November 2017) and Indonesia (since December 2017) have remained minimal, but orders are increasing, and they expect further demand as disposable income in these countries increases. Both firms are also eyeing the Middle East for halal wagyu exports.