Arriving to Japan

ICAL 2014: Days 1-3 in Japan

Editor’s Note: The International Collegiate Agricultural Leadership (I-CAL) program travels overseas to learn about global agriculture and international marketing. The group of 12 Collegiate FFA members departed the U.S. on May 20 for a 10-day tour of Japan where they engaged U.S. Embassy officials and government leaders; toured feed mills, animal markets, small farms and livestock operations; and toured food processing plants, among other activities. ICAL 2014 is made possible through support from The Grains Foundation.

Day 1 – We’re in Japan!

The ICAL 2014 group prior to departure.

Our flight went really well. It was about 12-hours and during the flight we flew over the Alaskan Islands, which was pretty cool! We were on one of United Airlines’ new planes called the Dreamliner and it was phenomenal. Even the food was tasty!

We met Tommy Hamamoto, Director of the US Grains Council in Japan, at the airport and drove about 1-hr to Tokyo from Narita. It was rainy and cloudy, which seems to be a common trend here in Japan.

We drove past Disneyland, Tokyo and over a couple of waterways that led to the Pacific Ocean. It’s strange to think that we’re now on the opposite side of the ocean from the U.S.

We each have our own rooms at the hotel which maybe 20 feet by 10 feet. The Japanese people are very efficient with space and build up in order to meet the demands of the dense population to landmass ratio.

For our first meal in Japan we ate at a restaurant called Cafe Gusto. We did our best to order by pointing at the pictures of the plates even though we had no idea what was in it. Thank goodness for Tommy!

So far, we’re just all soaking it in! Taking in the culture, customs, and habits to best fit in. We’re all looking forward to tomorrow’s briefings with some of the US Councils and Embassy, as well as our first ride on the metro! For now though, we just need to catch up on some sleep!

Check out our posts on Twitter & Instagram with the #ical2014 hashtag!

-Ryan Amaral

Ryan Amaral is an Educational Specialist at the National FFA Organization in charge of Collegiate FFA programs.


Day 2 – Corn, culture & chopsticks

japan day 2


In Japanese that means hello; today marks day 2 of our time in Japan. Today we had lots of meetings including one with the U.S. Grains Council, the U.S. Embassy and the U.S. Meat Export Council. To begin with, we had a presentation given by “Tommy” of the U.S. Grains Council. Tons of information was thrown at us today as we were debriefed by each organization. The man who put this trip together for us for the most part and is the man we have to thank is Tommy. Tommy works out of the Tokyo office for the U.S. Grains Council. He is the kind of guy who loves beef and knows how to use a set of chopsticks. He debriefed the entire ICAL group over the agenda and what we should expect, although he said that nothing is unexpected in Tokyo!

Japan is a country that has the third largest GDP in the world. It is also only 1/3 the size of the U.S population with 127 million. Interestingly enough, though, the population is expected to decrease to 95 million by 2060. Of this 127 million populace, over 60 percent of them are over the age of 60.

So, what does this mean for Japanese agriculture?

Well, the future of agriculture in Japan looks very unclear for this reason and the aging population is going to be a huge problem in the coming years. One program that the U.S. Senior Agricultural Attache informed us of was created by MAFF (Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry, and Fisheries) to help get young farmers involved and wanting to come back and farm. The program would give $15,000 to the farmers consecutively for 5 years to invest in production costs and materials.

As a whole, 60 percent of all students studying agriculture in post‐secondary or vocational schools are females; but most don’t end up farming. Amongst other things discussed were: the Japanese markets, the Trans‐Pacific Partnership, exports and imports and many other things.

After the day’s meetings with the U.S. Grains Council, the U.S. Embassy and the Meat Export Council, we finished the day with an authentic Japanese meal. Tommy took us literally to a sit down restaurant.We had to remove our shoes to sit down at our little table because it is a sign of respect. For dinner we had edamame, tofu, Soba noodles and broth which can also be known as buckwheat noodles, and tempora which is a deep fat fried shrimp. Some of us had challenges eating with only our chopsticks, but it was a very good dinner overall. On our way home we had to run through a “monsoon” rain storm and by the time we got back to the hotel we were all soaking wet!

Sayonara (goodbye) for now!

-Ryan Amaral


Day 3 – Inside Japan’s meat industry

Japanese meat in a local market.

Today our group had the opportunity to visit ZEN-NOH, a branch of Japan’s Central Union of Agricultural Co-operatives — or JA-Zenchu in short. The JA works to protect agriculture products, provide farmers with tools to succeed, and serves as a supply and marketing business for agriculture.

We quickly became aware of the power that JA cooperative has in Japanese agriculture. Throughout ZEN-NOH all bases of agriculture are controlled so that quality products can be delivered to customers. This means beef production, fruits, vegetables, grains, and even dairy play a part in ZEN-NOH. For livestock alone, there are eight main research and development facilities set up through out Japan.

Susumu Harada

It was extremely interesting to listen to the power that JA has over the agriculture industry in Japan, as this was definitely not a system that we were familiar with coming from the U.S. After a video presentation, we had the opportunity to ask questions. Many of us were intrigued by the “powerhouse” type of role that JA played in the industry. We are looking forward to having the opportunity later in the week to talk to farmers about all of this and get their input on this system.

A trip to a Japanese supermarket brought forth the vast array of agricultural products, including quality U.S. grains and meats, Japanese consume daily to the ICAL team. U.S. Meat Export Federation Senior Director, Susumu Harada, guided us through Japan’s large show case of meat cuts for sale. Most meats were pre-cut into thin slices and packaged to provide the perfect serving size. Japan delicacies, including Wagyu beef, display beside U.S. beef and pork labeled by Country of Origin Labeling (COOL).

Susumu explained Japan’s leading animal protein source is seafood at nearly 50 percent followed by pork, chicken and beef. The number or cattle and hog farms have steadily declined since 2000. Japanese expect quality, safety and consistency in meat products. The U.S. leads in meat exports to Japan and continues to increase its market among many competitors. U.S. pork and beef is far lower in price than domestic meat. U.S. meat exports continue to promote healthy lean meat to Japan’s silver age market.

The market also displayed a vast array of fresh fruits, vegetables and grains. It was great to see Japanese domestic food products alongside U.S. food products. Many products, such as the strawberries, had a picture of the farmer who grew it on the packaging. Japanese consumers really care about the farmer and quality of food they can trust. The ICAL team looks forward to farm tours and meeting with the face behind these foods, the Japanese farmers themselves.

-Lauren Schwab

Lauren Schwab of Oxford, Ohio, is participating in the 2014 ICAL experience in Japan.



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Join Lauren as she writes stories on farming and country music as a way of life. Be inspired by the hard work and dedication it takes to make dreams a reality and leave your mark on the world!

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