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Japan: 2010 Update (soybean, rapeseed, soybean meal, rapeseed meal, fish meal, soybean oil, rapeseed oil and sunflower seed oil)


Japan’s soybean imports in CY2009 were approximately 3.4 mmt, down 8.6 percent from 3.7 mmt in CY2008. The U. S. share was about 71 percent with the United States remaining the most stable supplier of soybeans to Japan. Although overall demand for oil remained fairly constant with demand for temperate oil in CY2009 decreasing 3.8 percent from CY2008, demand for tropical oil actually increased 2.6 percent over the same period. Imports of soybean meal were 1.92 mmt in CY2009, increased 14 percent from 1.68 mmt in CY2008 due to decreased soybean meal production.

Oilseed Production

Soybeans, along with rice, have been one of the staple grains of Japanese food culture since ancient times. Soybeans have been an important protein source for the Japanese diet and the importance of soy products has been reinforced by an increasing public awareness of the health-promoting benefits of soy. Although the importance of soybeans is well recognized, soybeans are currently a minority crop in Japanese agriculture and strong demand for soybeans has been met mainly through imports. Domestic production of soybeans has been consistent at the 3-5 percent level for the past thirty years. During that time the lowest level reached was 2 percent in 1995 and the highest was 6 percent (approximate figure) in 2008. Production in 2009 was 227,000 mt, down 13 percent from the previous year; planted area slightly decreased and yield dropped to 1.56 mt per hectare due to heavy rain in Hokkaido, Tokai and Kyushu in July 2009. In response, the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fishery (MAFF) began a new subsidy designed to increase domestic production for major grains including soybeans. Please refer GAIN report “MAFF proposed subsidy to increase domestic production of soybeans”.

Farmland converted from rice paddies or ordinary dry fields are used for soybean production in Japan. Total soybean planted area is 145,400 ha with 86 percent of soy crop raised on former rice paddies. Japan’s rice production has exceeded demand for many years and MAFF has actively encouraged farmers to switch from rice to soybeans and other crops. The figure (Fig 1) below shows transitions in planted area and the production of soybeans for the past twenty years. MAFF has a nonbinding target for soybean planted area (140,000 ha), production (270,000 MT) and yield (1.97 MT per hectare) by 2015.

Fig 1. Planted area and production of soybeans in Japan
Source: Crop Statistics (Association of Agriculture & Forestry Statistics)

Soybean production has been affected greatly by the Government of Japan’s rice production policy. Production reached 270,000 MT in 2001 and 2002, which is the targeted volume of the basic plan through 2015. However, soybean production is quite susceptible to the climate and adversely affected by long rains and typhoons; as can be seen in the drop in 2003 and continuing in 2004. Soybean yields have grown at a sluggish pace in Japan and have fluctuated greatly based on yearly weather changes and region.

Fig 2. Transition of yield
Source: Crop Statistics (Association of Agriculture & Forestry Statistics)

The ratio of low quality product, “3rd class” plus “specific end-use class”, has been relatively high ranging from 42 percent to 61 percent in the last eight years. There are several reasons for the quality problem such as bad weather and a lack of producer knowledge of the most efficient practices for soybean farming. Long rain often prevents sowing seeds and harvesting crop. Also bad weather conditions such as low temperature and lack of sunlight constrain improvements in yield and quality. The major reasons for a high percentage of low quality crops include bad drainage, poor cultivation management and late harvests. Improved and more efficient techniques could result in increased soybean production. Japan does not produce biotech soybeans commercially however six biotech soybean varieties have been approved. Cultivation of biotech varieties would undoubtedly increase yield significantly as it has in the rest of the world.

Fig 3. Result of soybean grading

Historically the vegetable oil industry was developed based on domestic rapeseed production in Japan. However, agricultural policy changes around 1965 resulted in a shift away from domestic production and Japan started to look for supplies from foreign countries. Since there were no countries exporting rapeseeds to Japan at that time the Japanese government and vegetable oil industry requested that Canada expand production of rapeseed in order to initiate exports to Japan. Canada cooperated with Japan’s request, increasing production of rapeseed to meet Japan’s import demand. Currently the vegetable oil industry exclusively uses imported material despite the traditionally strong relationship between the crushing industry and rapeseed farming in Japan.

Rapeseed is a low yield crop and requires vast amounts of land to make commercial production feasible. Total profit from rapeseed cultivation is one tenth of rice. Planted area for rapeseed in Japan was 200,000 ha in 1960 however it decreased rapidly to about 300 ha by 1999. Rapeseed faming in Japan remains negligible. Its volume was about 1000 MT in 2009, meeting only 0.05 percent of Japan’s annual consumption.

MAFF has announced a targeted volume for domestic agricultural products by 2020 aiming for a self sufficiency rate ranging from 41 percent to 50 percent. The targeted volume for soybeans is 600,000 mt, double 2009 production of 230,000 mt. To achieve this goal MAFF prepared the following specific measures:


  •  Convert rice paddies to large scale dry fields (2 hectare or more).
  •  Breeding and diffusion of high yield varieties.
  •  Improve cultivation techniques for soybeans.
  •  Increase demand for domestic soybeans through product development, which emphasizes the features of domestic soybeans.

In the case of rapeseed, the target volume by 2020 is 10,000 mt, more than 10 times as much as the current annual production. This was achieved through cultivation of high yield varieties and an improved relationship between crushers and farmers. This target is ambitious for Japanese farmers and even if realized would result in only minimal gains, contributing a mere 0.5 percent to the current production level.

Oilseed Consumption:

Soybeans and rapeseed are the primary oilseeds in Japan. The consumption of soybeans has been decreasing due to recent economic conditions and the revision of retail price due to the increase in raw material prices. Soybeans for oil production have all been imported with a demand of about 3 mmt in Japan. The demand for oil production increased dramatically from 1960 because of increased oil consumption following a shift to a western style diet. Soybeans provide good material to produce oil for human consumption and soy meal to satisfy feed demand.

Domestic soybeans have not been suitable for oil production because of high prices and the instability of quality and supply. Soybeans for food use have been about 25 percent (1 mmt) of total consumption. Food soybeans are used for tofu (soybean curd), boiled soybean, natto (fermented soybeans) and miso (fermented soybean paste)/soy sauce. Non-Gm soybeans are used for food soybeans except for soy sauce.

Japan’s soybean imports in CY2009 were approximately 3.4 mmt, down 8.6 percent from 3.7 mmt in CY2008. The value of imports also decreased to 1,742 million USD in CY2009 dropping 26 percent from 2,359 million USD in CY2008. The United States supplied 2.4 mmt of soybean in CY2009, dropping 11.6 percent from 2.7 mmt in CY2008, and maintaining 71 percent import market share. Other major suppliers are Brazil, Canada and China. Canada and China supply non-biotech soybean for food consumption. Total imports of soybeans for CY2010 are forecast around 3.4 mmt. The CIF import price of soybeans in CY2009 dropped to $514/mt from $636/mt in CY2008, still a relatively high level.

Historically the Japanese vegetable oil industry developed based on domestic rapeseed production. However, changes in agricultural policy around 1965 extinguished domestic production and Japan started to look for supply from foreign countries. At that time there were no countries exporting rapeseed to Japan. The Japanese government and vegetable oil crushing industry requested that Canada expand production in order to increase exports to Japan. Canada’s share of the Japanese market was 94 percent in 2009, and the average price dropped to $455/mt from $677 in CY2008, which is similar to the price in CY2007 of $449/mt.
Currently the Japanese vegetable oil crushing industry use only imported material. Canada and Australia are the major rapeseed suppliers to Japan. No import duties are levied on soybean and rapeseed.


Soybean ending stock in CY2009 increased to 223,000 mt from 179,000 mt in CY2008. This volume includes 31,000 mt of soybeans imported by the government supported stocking program, which started in 1978. The purpose of this program is to stock enough volume to supply one month’s food use. Out of 31,000 mt, the amount of non-GM soybeans will be at most 7,200 mt. This subsidy will continue in JFY2010 with a budget of 291 million yen, the same as the previous year. Rapeseed ending stocks in CY2009 decreased to 155,000 mt from 224,000 mt. It is assumed that this change is within the rate of annual variation and does not indicate any special circumstance.

Oil Meal Situation and Outlook

Soybean meal is not just a byproduct in the Japanese crushing industry but an important product in its own right, as is soybean oil. The soybean crushing process produces 190 kg of soybean oil and 760 kg of soybean meal from one mt of soybean. In terms of stable demand and value, soybean meal could be more important than soybean oil. Eighty-eight percent of soybean meal was used for feed in CY2009 and the rest was used for ingredients in soy sauce, miso (bean paste) and soy protein foods.
Due to decreased oil production, soybean meal production in CY2009 was 1.88 mmt, down 12 percent from 2.14 mmt in CY2008. However, demand for feed was 3.37 mmt in CY2009, slightly increased from the previous year. Therefore, imports of soybean meal were 1.92 mmt in CY2009, increased 14 percent from 1.68 mmt in CY2008.

Rapeseed meal and fish meal are used for feed and fertilizer production. Like soybean meal, rapeseed meal production has been gradually decreasing over the years and was down 5.3 percent in CY2009 to 1.2 mmt from 1.26 mmt in CY2008. Demand has kept stable around 1.3 mmt over the last 5 years and the import volume of rapeseed meal has been increasing to fill demand.

Oil Situation and Outlook

The total supply of vegetable oil in CY2009 was 2.4 mmt including 1.6 mmt from domestic production and 0.7 mmt from import. While oils from temperate products have been decreasing, oils from tropical products such as palm oil and palm kernel oil have been increasing. Palm oil is used for producing margarine, shortening, instant noodles, snacks and soap.


Palm oil is the major vegetable oil imported by Japan. Unlike other oilseeds such as soybean and rapeseed, palm oil is produced from the flesh of fruit so that it is difficult to import raw materials with the appropriate qualities for domestic production. Malaysia dominates the palm oil market in Japan. Japan imports palm kernel oil, coconut oil, soybean oil, olive oil and rice oil to meet various demands. Imports of soybean oil and rapeseed oil have been very minimal. The market is protected by the high tariffs on soybean and rapeseed oils. Tariff for both oils are 10.9 and 13.2 yen/kg depending on acid value.

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