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Japanese oyster company wants a place on Asian tables

New Okinawa storage site holds key to exporting fresher, safer mollusks

General Oyster will purchase oysters from across Japan and export them.

TOKYO -- A Japanese oyster company is looking to cash in on Asia's appetite for the mollusks, using a new storage and farming facility in Okinawa as its jumping-off point.

General Oyster plans to export to luxury hotels and other customers across the region, with an emphasis on freshness and safety. The idea is to counter the European raw oysters that are widely available. "We will enhance the added benefits of Japanese oysters and market them by highlighting their differences from raw oysters grown overseas," said Kyoko Washiashi, the president of GO Farm, a subsidiary in charge of the facility in Japan's southernmost prefecture.

The Tokyo-based operator of an oyster bar chain will export raw magaki Pacific oysters and slightly larger rock oysters, known as iwagaki, from about 50 contracted aquaculture farms in Japan. First, they will be taken to a General Oyster facility in the central prefecture of Toyama and purified in germ-free, deep-ocean water. Soaking oysters in this water for about 60 hours helps "reduce the number of viruses and bacteria that can cause food poisoning to almost zero," a company official said.

The next stop will be the Okinawa site, not far from Naha Airport -- a key hub for cargo bound for China and other Asian destinations. 

General Oyster's new storage and farming facility in Urasoe, Okinawa Prefecture, purifies oysters by soaking them in germ-free, underground seawater.

This will be a 48-60 hour stopover. To keep the oysters fresh, they will be kept in seawater that is virtually free of bacteria and viruses, pumped in from about 30 meters below ground. Then they will be packed in boxes and sent on their flights.

The underground seawater in Okinawa is rich in minerals. With plankton mixed in for the oysters to feast on, the mollusks will end up tastier and more nutritious than they were when they arrived.

Shanghai, Hong Kong and Taiwan are to be the first destinations; General Oyster intends to widen the scope of the exports gradually. It intends to pitch the oysters as the ideal buffet centerpiece for hotels, while also selling them to local Japanese restaurants and other establishments. Wholesaling to hotels and restaurants in Okinawa is also a possibility.

The goal is to export 150,000 oysters by March 2018, and 2.2 million oysters annually in fiscal 2018 -- the year through March 2019.

Since 2012, General Oyster has been experimenting with the world's first land-based oyster farming on the Okinawa island of Kumejima. If it manages to mass-produce oysters this way, the company would then export them via the storage facility.

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