TOKYO -- Japanese exports of agricultural and marine products and food set a value record for a third straight year in 2015, with apples and wagyu beef hitting all-time highs.
The total grew nearly 22% on the year to 745.2 billion yen ($6.2 billion), the agriculture ministry reported Wednesday. The rising popularity of Japanese food overseas helped producers increase exports, as did a weak yen, which adds a bargain appeal. The government aims to achieve early the target of reaching 1 trillion yen in 2020.
Hong Kong ranked as the biggest foreign market for these goods, totaling 179.4 billion yen, one-third more than a year earlier. Exports to the U.S., the second-biggest destination, rose by nearly 15% to 107.1 billion yen. Taiwan-bound exports climbed almost 14% to 95.2 billion yen, and mainland China and South Korea also showed healthy demand. In all, Asian markets accounted for more than 70% of the total.
The most valuable export was scallops, as 59.1 billion yen worth were shipped abroad, an increase of roughly one-third. Prices of the shellfish rose 50-100% on strong demand from China and South Korea, said Teramoto Fishery Products, a seafood vendor in Yubetsu, Hokkaido, in Japan's far north.
Among other seafood, mackerel jumped 55% to 17.9 billion yen, while Japanese amberjack or yellowtail rose 38% to 13.8 billion yen. Much of the growth was concentrated in Southeast Asia.
As for farm products, exports of apples and wagyu each topped 10 billion yen for the first time. The former grew 55% to 13.4 billion yen, the latter 34% to 11 billion yen. Wagyu sells for two to three times as much in the U.S. and other foreign markets as in Japan, said an export promotion council in Kagoshima Prefecture, a major beef-producing area of southern Japan. The Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement promises to create even greater export opportunities, the council said.
Japanese cuisine is gaining favor abroad, with an estimated 89,000 restaurants serving it worldwide as of July. This trend can be seen in last year's 21% export rise in sake and double-digit growth in soy sauce.
Japanese farm, forestry and fishery goods also have benefited from eased quarantine regulations. Vietnam and Brazil opened up to exports of Japanese apples and beef, respectively, last year.
Exports of rice, excluding food aid to developing countries, grew 56% but remained relatively low in value terms, at 2.2 billion yen. Part of the problem is that Japanese varieties are pricey, even with a weak yen.