August 04, 2019

Tasty bid brings Tottori Wagyu to Osaka

Tottori Prefecture

Tottori Gov. Shinji Hirai (left) and Fujiya Co. Chairman Kensuke Yamada introduce some samples of the delectable dishes at Tottori Wagyu Daisen Fujiya Shinsaibashi Honten in Osaka on July 6. | MASAAKI KAMEDA

Although lesser known than other varieties of Japanese beef, Tottori Wagyu is of the highest quality and Tottori Prefecture aims to boost its exposure at a new restaurant in Osaka amid an increasing number of inbound tourists.

Opened on July 14 by a subsidiary of famous confectioner Fujiya Co. on the bustling Shinsaibashi-suji shopping street, Tottori Wagyu Daisen Fujiya Shinsaibashi Honten offers the premium beef through teppanyaki (iron grill cooking), along with other high-grade seasonal foodstuffs from the prefecture.

Fujiya Food Service Co. operates the restaurant, which takes part of its name from Tottori’s iconic 1,729-meter Mount Daisen.

The collaboration between the prefecture and the Tokyo-based chain was based on a partnership agreement signed in June that seeks to use food from Tottori in Fujiya’s restaurants and for the company’s confectionery development.

“Tottori Wagyu was not as widely known, but the time has come when a Tottori calf can sell for more than ¥5 million,” Tottori Gov. Shinji Hirai said in his speech at a reception on July 6 prior to the restaurant’s opening. A calf from Tottori fetched a record ¥5.6 million at auction in April last year.

One reason that Tottori Wagyu may be less familiar is its relative scarcity in the marketplace. Hirai noted the number of Tottori beef cattle farmed in the prefecture is around 10,000, accounting for just 0.6 percent of the country’s total wagyu.

Hirai added that purchases boomed after Tottori Wagyu won the beef cattle category at the National Competitive Exhibition of Wagyu, known as the Wagyu Olympics, in 2017. These factors contributed to the difficulty in obtaining the beef.

“Featuring such valuable wagyu beef as the main menu item, the restaurant uses a wide range of food from the prefecture, including benizuwaigani red snow crab, Nebarikko brand nagaimo yams and famed negi (Japanese leeks),” the governor said.

Additionally, in an interview with The Japan Times and other media outlets along with Fujiya Chairman Kensuke Yamada, Hirai explained that the beef’s fat makes it unique and tender.

“Its fat is quite different. It features a high oleic acid content, the melting point of which is 16 degrees Celsius. It’s as if the fat melts in your mouth,” he said.

The governor noted he believes people rate something very highly if it’s truly good, so the prefecture has looked for an appropriate location beyond its borders to seek such assessment.

“We have hoped that high-end restaurants use our foods,” the governor said. “We’d like to test out our potential on discerning international guests in the Shinsaibashi area, which is often compared to Ginza in Tokyo.”

Meanwhile, Yamada noted in his speech at the reception that the confectioner, which made inroads in Osaka 88 years ago, used to operate a cake shop and a family eatery at the location. He explained a change in visitor demographics to Shinsaibashi-suji prompted the firm to launch the high-end restaurant with an eye on inbound travelers.

“We’ve heard that about 80 percent of the 150,000 passersby in Shinsaibashi-suji on weekends are from abroad,” he noted in his interview. “So, we took the plunge and made the shift.”

Describing the prefecture’s agricultural products as “superior,” the chairman said the company decided to have all the food exclusively brought in from Tottori, including rice and vegetables.

He added that the building materials and interior decorations at the restaurant are also from the prefecture, including Japanese cedar from the town of Chizu for the tables and Inshu washi (traditional Japanese paper) for wallpaper.

Yamada also said the restaurant has staff well-versed in English and Chinese to better serve international customers.

“I’d like our guests to learn about Tottori’s produce through this restaurant,” Yamada noted. “I believe that could lead to further development of the prefecture’s agricultural and fisheries industries.”

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