Forget rising gas prices, try skyrocketing soybean costs. According to this Wall Street Journal article by Hiroko Tabuchi, the price of U.S. soybeans has risen 60%, making business difficult for Japan’s tofu industry.
Japan imported $863 million worth of soybeans from the U.S. last year to support tofu production, but the changing American soybean industry is greatly affecting the output of one of Japan’s staple foods. Because Japanese consumers will not tolerate genetically modified soybeans, according to tofu producers, and fewer non-genetically modified soybeans are being grown in America, due to its lower crop yield and susceptibility to insects, the tofu industry has to pay a higher premium to import non-GM soybeans.
Combined with the fact that the traditional Japanese diet is shifting towards Western foods, the tofu industry is in big trouble. Why doesn’t Japan just grow their own soybeans? Well, Japan’s soy-relationship with America dates back to the period after World War II, when the U.S. sent the food to the war-torn, and hungry, Japanese. Over the next decade, America aggressively pushed their homegrown soybeans to fit with Japanese tofu making.
Now Japan might have to revisit domestic soybean farming to lower its production costs. As of right now, tofu made from Japanese soy beans are higher end, costing twice as much as the American brand and marketed towards a niche market: young consumers. Take “Johnny” for instance. Produced by the Kyoto-based Otokomae Tofuten Corp., the tofu comes in a package shaped like a surfboard and is frequently eaten with syrup.
The times they are a-changin.