Campus: CSU Sacramento -- February 12, 2003
Study Puts Japanese Perceptions Of California
Rice To The Test
Japanese consumers know rice. And nearly 80 percent of them “know”
that California grown rice is inferior to domestically produced rice,
and maintain they can tell the difference.
The perception plays a significant part in justifying Japanese trade
restrictions on imported rice. But can they really tell the difference?
“The answer is, ‘no,’” said Ken Chinen, professor
of international business at California State University, Sacramento.
“In blind tests they cannot tell the difference even though they
say they can.”
Chinen, a native of Japan, put Japanese tastes and beliefs to the test
in a series of experiments conducted in Sunnyvale and Sacramento. He
asked 161 Japanese nationals to taste two portions of short-grained
white rice—the kind preferred in Japanese cooking—and rate
the samples according to sweetness, stickiness, texture, fragrance and
whiteness. Participants were also asked a series a questions about their
attitudes toward domestic and imported rice and, finally, to identify
the samples as being Japanese- or California-grown. His findings will
be presented at the Global Business Education Symposium on Feb. 11 at
When the results were compiled they showed that Japanese consumers could
not clearly tell the difference. Of the 80 percent who expressed a preference
for rice grown in Japan, 40 percent misidentified the rice grown in
Japan. Participants did even worse if they made their choices by smell
alone: 50 percent incorrectly identified the Japanese-grown rice by
“Statistically speaking, there is no significant difference,”
Chinen said. “It’s just an issue of perception. Rice is
Chinen said the real issues behind official Japanese distaste for foreign
rice is economic and cultural, with a dash of national security.
“In Japan, rice is the source of culture, religion, wealth, power
and aesthetics,” Chinen said. “Rice is not just food, rice
is more than that.”
Domestic rice production is also tied to national security through fears
that Japan—which relies on food imports to feed its burgeoning
population—could be held hostage by foreign rice growers if it
became dependent on imported rice. While that might be acceptable for
other food products, to allow it to happen to rice would be perceived
as a crisis.
“They worry that, some time in the future, other countries might
use rice as a weapon,” Chinen said. Indeed, 65 percent of the
Japanese surveyed by Chinen said they were concerned about the island
nation’s future food supply. In addition to worries about “food
security,” the Japanese are also concerned about the safety of
foreign-grown rice. They fear that foreign rice may be contaminated
with pesticide residues or harmful preservatives. According to a survey
conducted by the Japanese Food Agency, 80 percent of Japanese consumers
who prefer domestic rice are concerned about food safety. In Chinen’s
study, approximately 50 percent of those who preferred Japanese rice
expressed their concern about the safety of foreign rice.
Under international trade agreements, Japan does import rice—660,000
tons in 1999—but often re-exports it as food aid to impoverished
nations. The United States supplies 51 percent of Japan’s imported
rice, with approximately 75 percent of that coming from California growers;
Thailand (19 percent), Australia (15 percent) and China (10 percent)
are other major importers. Imported rice for the Japanese consumer is
sold on the market at nearly four times the government's cost.
Referring to a 20-pound bag of koshihikari rice, a preferred type of
short-grained rice, Chinen noted that a California buyer could purchase
it for under $14; the Japanese buyer would pay about $40 for a bag of
the same rice grown in Japan.
“Middle-income Japanese consumers are starting to ask why they
have to pay so much more for domestic products when similar foreign
products are cheaper,” Chinen said. Part of the answer is in the
protectionist policies pursued by the Japanese government at the urging
of domestic rice growers—very similar to the political influence
American agribusinesses have on U.S. policy.
“It is in the politicians’ interest and in the farmers’
interest to protect the price of rice,” Chinen said, “but
that might not be best for everyone. I’m on the side of the consumer.”
Chinen said he hopes his study will open the door to a greater acceptance
of California rice—which is already considered the best of the
imported rice—by Japanese consumers, and eventually helping open
The Global Business Education Symposium is free and open to the public.
Full information about it, including a schedule of events, descriptions
of each workshop and registration, is available online at www.csus.edu/mgmt/gbes.
Registration is required but attendees may register the day of the event.
For more information and registration, contact Chinen at (916) 278-6882
or at email@example.com. Media
assistance is available by calling the CSUS public affairs office at