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Sake banned by Beijing after Fukushima accident popular souvenirs among Chinese tourists – AJW by The Asahi Shimbun

At the duty-free Akihabara shop at Narita Airport, Zhou Yueqiu carried a cart containing souvenirs from Japan, including items banned by Beijing because they came from a prefecture near the 2011 nuclear disaster.

Among the goods were four bottles of Urakasumi, a renowned sake brand brewed in Miyagi Prefecture, subject to the restrictions.

Zhou, 42, a company employee from Shanghai, said she was aware that the Japanese rice wine comes from the prohibited area, but came to the shop to buy some because she sipped the brand before and liked it.

“Nobody is bothered by whether they are produced in eastern Japan,” she said on her way back to Shanghai last month. “The flavorful brand will be appreciated by anyone in China.”

Miyagi, which is just north of Fukushima, is among the 10 prefectures in eastern Japan whose foods and feed products are not allowed to be imported into China due to a Chinese government ban.

The previous ban imposed in April 2011, following the Fukushima meltdowns triggered by the Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami, was targeted at 12 prefectures.

Sake is one of the food products that falls under the ban.

Japan’s National Tax Agency’s alcoholic beverage tax division said the purchase of the sake does not pose a problem for Chinese as long as it is for personal consumption.

Despite Beijing’s restrictions, famed brands of sake made in eastern Japan are continuing to prove popular with Chinese visitors like Zhou.

At Narita, the Akihabara shop, which offers a wide range of souvenirs from all parts of Japan, draws about 600 Chinese tourists a day.

The area selling liquors takes up the coveted space of the shop, facing the walkway, offering more than 20 renowned varieties of sake from across Japan.

Signs in Chinese tout the features of each item, such as “high quality both in flavor and taste” and “soft and pleasant to the taste.”

The shop sells about 760 bottles of rice wine a month.

All the top five best-selling sake brands that Chinese tourists bought in fiscal 2012 were from breweries in the prefectures of Niigata, Saitama and Chiba–all covered under the ban by China, according to NAA Retailing Corp., which operates the Akihabara shop. The products include Kubota and Hakkaisan, both from Niigata Prefecture, a producer of top-quality brand rice.

In fiscal 2013, four of the top five brands were from the banned region.

“Chinese buy sake without caring much where the products were made,” said a NAA Retailing official.

Shuichi Mizuma, representative director of the Niigata Sake Brewers Association, said, “We hope that the Chinese government will review the ban as soon as possible.”

Buoyed by its healthy image, many Chinese favor Japanese cuisine despite strained bilateral ties due to a territorial dispute over the Senkaku Islands and Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s visit to war-linked Yasukuni Shrine.

The popularity of Japanese dishes gives a big boost to sake as a liquor, with a lower alcohol content, which pairs well with traditional Japanese dishes amid a growing health consciousness movement among well-to-do Chinese.

Bai Jiaming, a company employee from Tianjin, sampled some rice wine in a section set up for sake tasting at a duty-free shop at Haneda Airport on May 3.

“Japanese cuisine is popular in China,” said Bai, 41. “Sake tastes good, too.”

Asked about China’s continued ban on imports of Japanese food products, Yang Yu, a spokesman of the Chinese Embassy in Tokyo said late last month, “China is securing the safety (of food products) based on a scientific assessment.”

Yang added that it is necessary for officials in Japan and China handling the issue to bolster their communication and exchanges.



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