TOKYO -- Tempura and other specialty restaurant chains in Japan are feasting their eyes on Taiwan and its growing number of gourmands hungry for authentic Japanese cuisine.
The neighboring island already hosts a large number of Japanese eateries, but there is room for more, thanks to Taiwanese tourists who return home from Japan with a taste for the real meal.
The latest rush into Taiwan reflects the island's taste for specialty cafes and bowl-type restaurants, rather than those serving a broad range of Japanese food, according to Nobuhiro Nakajima of the Japan External Trade Organization.
Royal Holdings, operator of the Tenya chain of tempura restaurants, plans to begin doing business in Taiwan this year, and to have 50 overseas locations by 2020, mostly in Asia. Royal joins beef bowl chain Matsuya Foods, which opened its first overseas branch in Taipei in September, and Komeda Holdings, which launched its popular coffee shops in the city in February.
Komeda plans to open several more on the island and will set up its first overseas joint partnership there this month. Meanwhile, Sarutahiko Coffee, which runs 10 coffee shops, mostly in Tokyo, recently opened its first overseas branch in a Taipei shopping mall.
Taiwan's population of 24 million is only about a fifth that of Japan but the country has a larger proportion of working women. More working women typically means more dining out, and Taiwan is no exception: Household spending on restaurants and hotel stays come to about 97,000 New Taiwan dollars ($3,142) per year, more than triple that of Japan.
According to JETRO estimates, there were over 9,000 Japanese-style restaurants in Taiwan, including those run by locals, as of March 2018. Japan's popular Yoshinoya chain of beef-bowl restaurants already has 64 branches there while Ootoya, a chain featuring a more comprehensive menu, has 33.
Taiwan lifted a 16-year ban on wagyu beef last year and the island quickly became the largest importer of the premium meat by volume during the first six months of this year. The wagyu fad is expected to feed Taiwanese demand for more high-end Japanese restaurants.