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Food & Beverage

Japanese pay more for prized mushrooms as supply dries up

Restaurants and retailers face shortage of matsutake, a fall fixture

The wholesale price of matsutake mushrooms grown in Iwate Prefecture has nearly tripled from last year, pushing up prices on store shelves. (Photo by Maiko Sugiyama)

TOKYO -- Poor weather has eaten into this year's supply of coveted Japanese matsutake mushrooms, driving wholesale prices to double or triple 2018 levels, though a bumper crop of imports has softened the blow to the overall market.

The average price of Iwate Prefecture-grown matsutake in Tokyo's Metropolitan Central Wholesale Market jumped 140% on the year to 93,037 yen ($869) per kilogram in late September, with less-expensive Nagano Prefecture specimens seeing a 170% increase. Prices are at their highest in the past 10 years.

Fewer matsutake are reaching retail markets. The supply of Nagano mushrooms arriving at greengrocers is 30% of year-earlier levels, while mushrooms from northern Japan's Iwate are down to less than 10%, data from an industry research group shows.

Hot, dry weather in these areas has slowed their growth, farmers say.

"Matsutake won't grow if temperatures don't drop," a representative from a matsutake cooperative in Iwate Prefecture said. "It's taking two weeks to one month longer than usual for them to reach a size where they can be shipped."

Restaurants specializing in Japanese cuisine are swallowing higher prices. A sushi restaurant in downtown Tokyo that uses Japanese matsutake in such dishes as steamed egg custard has had to pay double last year's price.

"Matsutake are essential to our fall menu, but they're so expensive this year," the proprietor said.

Retail prices are also on the rise. At Hayashi Fruits, a high-end fruit seller in a Shibuya department store of Tokyu, matsutake mushrooms from Iwate go for around 15,000 to 43,200 yen a box -- up around 10% to 20% from last year.

"Sales are slow," said a shop representative who blamed the warmer weather in Tokyo -- heat that bodes ill for the soups and steam-boiled recipes for which the highly sought-after mushrooms are famous.

Domestically grown matsutake have disappeared from the shelves of a Takashimaya department store in Tokyo's Nihonbashi district, replaced by imported mushrooms. "This is around the time of year we start selling domestic matsutake, but with the consecutive typhoons this year, they have not arrived," a spokesperson said.

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