A relative newcomer to the global rugby family and the first Asian host of the tournament, Japan is keen to involve rugby heavyweights such as Australia in the lead up to 2019. Promotional events have been held throughout the country with Australian participation, to build excitement about the game in Japan, and more are in the pipeline – Australian meat exporters have become involved in these events.
Non-profit group Club Australia, a 2,000-strong Tokyo-based group, each member having an association with Australia, is maximising this link with Australia by teaming up with fellow non-profit group Street Rugby Alliance, also based in Tokyo, which aims to boost engagement in rugby across Japan.
In August 2018 the two groups promoted Australian lamb at the opening of the Kamaishi Recovery Memorial Stadium, in Kamaishi, north-eastern Honshu, (a key rugby-playing area in Japan) the only stadium in Japan to be built for the Rugby World Cup and part of the regeneration of the Tohoku region following the Great East Japan Earthquake and Tsunami of 2011. Representatives of Club Australia sold lamb chops to the 6,500 Japanese and international attendees, most of whom were trying the meat for the first time.
The primary aim was to increase awareness of Australian lamb in Japan and provide a tasting opportunity to anyone who had not tried it before, due to lack of interest or availability.
According to Club Australia member Tad Watanabe, who ran the promotion, lamb is growing in popularity but there is much more to be done to promote its good flavour and health benefits.
In 2017, sheep meat consumption in Japan rose for the second consecutive year, according to the Organisation for Economic Cooperation & Development (OECD), but remained low at 0.1kg per capita, closely followed by beef and veal (6.6kg), compared to the most popular meat, pork (15.4kg).
“Lamb is not well known but was once traditionally eaten in Kamaishi and the neighbouring area,” he explained. “The promotions are changing people’s perceptions of lamb as a smelly meat. Those who ate it said they would eat it again or inquired where they might buy it.”
Organisers hope that such events will boost consumption, thereby supporting producers.
The event is the latest in a series, including the successful promotion of Australian beef at an Aeon supermarket in Kamaishi in 2016, and both beef and lamb at a rugby event in central Tokyo in May.
The Australian Embassy in Tokyo and the Australian New Zealand Chamber of Commerce in Japan have promoted these activities via their networks while the Tokyo office of Meat & Livestock Australia have introduced producers to Club Australia and provided recipe cards and merchandise to distribute.
Club Australia and Street Rugby Alliance will return to Kamaishi in October to prepare barbequed lamb at the town’s Rugby Fanzone public exhibit promoting the sport.