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Terraced rice fields in Niigata Prefecture. Photo: Office of the Governor of Niigata
NIIGATA, NIIGATA PREF. Agricultural Ministers’ Meeting | May 11-12, 2019

Japan’s culinary hotspot pioneers next-generation agriculture

Niigata Prefecture is blessed by natural wonders including a long and diverse coastline, national parks carved out by mountains and rivers and expansive fertile plains. Today, it is reverently using that land for its economic development. From agriculture to tourism, the Japanese region is using innovative methods to set a global example for how to sustainably develop this life-giving resource. As host of the 2019 G20 Agricultural Ministers Meeting, it will soon have the opportunity to teach and learn from some of the world’s top agricultural leaders

Even within a country renowned for its excellent gastronomy, Niigata’s cuisine stands out for its quality. The prefecture, commonly known as the land of rice and sake, is treasured for what is some of Japan’s most delicious produce.

Niigata is Japan’s top rice producer and home to the premium ‘Koshihikari’ brand, which reaches the highest quality due to the unique climate conditions of a region nestled between the sea and mountains. Although mostly sold domestically, it is becoming increasingly popular in the international marketplace for its unmatched taste and appearance.

Sake, Japanese rice wine, has also become renowned in the region due to the subtle effects of freshwater springs, cool winters and outstanding rice on sake production. Local companies like Asahi-Shuzo Sake Brewing are now popularizing Niigata’s sake far beyond Japan’s border.

“The U.S. is a great country that embraces different cultures from around the world and is good at making them even better. We have found that our sake surprisingly has compatibility with other cuisines in the U.S.,” said Yasushi Hosoda, Asahi-Shuzo Sake Brewing’s president, adding that the U.S. now accounts for 30 percent of their sales.

Local fish and seafood provide the other ingredients for some of the coastal region’s tastiest dishes including a variety of sushi, sashimi and wappameshi. Delicacies such as edible chrysanthemums, known as kakinomoto, as well as unique pears and tomatoes add world-class flavor to the region’s cuisine as well as supporting its agricultural industry, which is focused on growth and innovation.  

“Our great strength is the quality of our produce, but we want to explore ways to boost efficiency so we can compete in global markets”

Hideyo Hanazumi, Governor of Niigata Prefecture

“We very much welcome investment. Our agriculture sector is expanding to a global level, and we would like to increase the production of our vegetables, flowers and rice. Our great strength is the quality of our produce, but we want to explore ways to boost efficiency so we can compete in global markets,” said Governor of Niigata Prefecture Hideyo Hanazumi.

Although the region has a long tradition of environmentally sustainable and efficient practices, in recent years Niigata has been pioneering innovative agricultural methods. Since 2014, when Niigata city, the capital of Niigata prefecture, was designated a National Strategic Special Zone for agriculture, the prefecture has focused on state-of-the-art and progressive methods to optimize profit and sustainability, while maintaining the characteristic quality of its produce. Today, driverless tractors may be seen working Niigata’s fields, and concepts such as precision farming, ITC agriculture and plant factories are increasingly taking root.   

“Just a little sip of KUBOTA evokes beautiful images of Japan”

Yasushi Hosoda, President, Asahi-Shuzo Sake Brewing Co., Ltd

Niigata, like most of Japan and agricultural regions in much of the world, is also facing a depopulation problem. With a low birthrate and elderly population, combined with the lure of bigger metropolises for its youth, the region is hoping to use food to fuel economic revitalization. Through increased investment in innovative techniques and the promotion of value-added food processing, its aim is to empower farmers financially. Likewise, new policy hopes to include more women and youth in the agricultural sector. Promoting restaurants that offer farm-to-table meals is another pillar of the region’s plan to help it thrive long into the future.   

Understandably, Niigata is also hoping to capitalize on its gastronomic prowess to attract more tourists from all over the world. In just a 100-minute bullet train ride from Tokyo, foodies can explore one of the most authentic Japanese destinations. Still off the beaten bath, Niigata is the 28th most popular tourist destination out of the country’s 47 prefectures, but with more national parks than any other and a rich culture, tourism in Niigata has immense growth potential.

A sake brewer once said, “the quality of sake can never exceed the quality of its ingredients.” Niigata’s Asahi-Shuzo Sake Brewing lives by this rule, working with local communities to cultivate top-quality rice and preserve the pristine environment that provides water. Pictured: Brewers preparing rice for KUBOTA sake. Photo: Asahi-Shuzo Sake Brewing

“Niigata is the next destination tourists should seek out. Tourists want to see beautiful nature, enjoy delicious food and experience great art and authentic traditional cultures – I believe Niigata has all of this,” said Hanazumi.

As the host of the G7 Agriculture Ministers Meeting in 2016, the region has been pivotal for placing food security and sustainability at the core of the global agenda. Its opportunity to host the G20 meeting in 2019 will further solidify its role as one of the epicenters of new ideas for agriculture.

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