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Challenges for the Japanese Citrus Market

Japan’s mandarin production continues to decline amidst labor shortages and reduced consumption. Shipping challenges and rising prices are projected to reduce the consumption of largely imported oranges and grapefruit. FAS/Tokyo anticipates that the resumption of hotel and restaurant operations following 2020-2021 COVID-19-related states of emergency will support the recovery of the Japanese demand for fresh lemons.


Japan’s domestic tangerine/mandarin production primarily focuses on Satsuma mandarins, also known as “Unshu mikan” or “Unshu orange” (referred to as “unshu” hereafter). After reaching peak production of 3.7 million metric tons (MT) and a corresponding price drop in 1975, Japan’s unshu production has been steadily declining in line with production plans by Japan’s Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (MAFF). In response, some citrus farmers have transitioned to producing non-unshu varieties (e.g., Natsu-Mikan (Citrus natsudaidai) and Iyokan (Citrus Iyo)). Although this transition had partially offset falling unshu production, non-unshu production has also been declining since 1987 due to the overarching challenge in Japanese agriculture of aging farmers and a lack of successors.

In marketing year (MY: October September) 2021/22, FAS/Tokyo forecasts area harvested for tangerines/mandarins in Japan will shrink by 1,300 hectares (ha) to 50,400 ha from MY 2020/21. The unshu varieties will represent approximately 80 percent of Japan’s total tangerine/mandarin production, and the remainder will be non-unshu varieties.

Japan’s tangerine/mandarin season runs generally between October and May, where unshu production occurs primarily between October to February, followed by non-unshu varieties. According to MAFF statistics, five western prefectures (Wakayama, Ehime, Shizuoka, Kumamoto, and Nagasaki) produce nearly 70 percent of Japan’s unshu. These five prefectures are also major producers of non-unshu varieties. Until MY 2019/20, MAFF had set an “appropriate production/distribution quantity” target to control production, but recent unshu production fell short of the targets. Therefore, MAFF decided to shift away from government-driven production control. For MY 2021/22, MAFF announced a tangerine/mandarin demand estimate in an effort to balance production with market demand. 

MAFF’s MY 2021/22 demand estimate for unshu is 760,000 MT, 6,000 MT down from MY 2020/21. However, based on industry sources, FAS/Tokyo forecasts Japan’s MY 2021/22 production will fall short of meeting that demand. According to Wakayama unshu farmers, MY 2021/22 will be an “offyear” for the alternatively bearing unshu in Wakayama and Shizuoka prefectures. Furthermore, long rains in May and August negatively impacted production due to increased incidence of Botrytis cinerea and citrus black spot disease. FAS/Tokyo forecasts MY 2021/22 tangerine/mandarin production at 924,000 MT, down 5.3 percent from MY 2020/21 level, of which 720,000 MT will be unshu.


Approximately 90 percent of domestically produced tangerines/mandarins are consumed fresh in Japan. The remainder is processed, mostly for juice. According to surveys carried out by the Japan Fruit Association (JFA) and the Japan Co-operative Alliance (JCA), price is increasingly the key consideration for Japanese consumers in purchasing fresh fruit. For example, the 2020 JFA survey found that approximately 55 percent of Japanese consumers eat fresh fruit less than once a week due to cost. Although at-home food consumption, where tangerines/mandarins are typically eaten, has increased during the COVID-19 pandemic, this trend has not led to an increase in fresh fruit consumption. Consequently and in light of the expected decline in domestic tangerine/mandarin production, FAS/Tokyo forecasts Japan’s total tangerine/mandarin consumption will decrease by 5.0 percent from MY 2020/21 to 949,000 MT in MY 2021/22.


In MY 2020/21, Japan’s imports of fresh tangerines/mandarins rose by 9.9 percent to 23,103 MT, primarily due to summer tangerine imports from Peru (Table 1), which gained market access to Japan for tangerines/mandarins in 2018. Although Peruvian tangerines are typically more price-competitive than U.S. or Australian products, there is minimal overlap or direct competition in the Japanese market between tangerine/mandarin imports from the United States and southern hemisphere. Nevertheless, despite remaining the top fresh tangerine/mandarin supplier to Japan, the U.S. import share has been declining in the last few years due to changing production patterns and export priorities in the United States, as well as increasing price (Table 1).

FAS/Japan forecasts Japan’s imports of tangerines/mandarins to increase to 25,000 MT in MY 2021/22 or by 8.2 percent from MY 2020/21 levels, largely due to growing consumption in the summer months driven by the availability of Australian and Peruvian products.


Despite COVID-19-related restrictions on travel and promotional activities, Japan’s fresh tangerine/mandarin exports increased to 1,416 MT or by 34.4 percent from MY 2019/20 to MY 2020/21 largely due to greater demand from established customers in Hong Kong. Given the Government of Japan’s focus on boosting agricultural exports, including unshu (see JA2021-0103 titled “Japan Releases Details on Agricultural Export Expansion Plan”), FAS/Tokyo forecasts MY 2021/22 Japan’s tangerine/mandarin exports will grow to 1,800 MT or by 27 percent from MY 2020/21 levels.


U.S. tangerine/mandarin exports (Harmonized System Code (HS) 0805.21, clementines (HS 0805.22) and similar varieties (HS 0805.29)) continue to face a tariff disadvantage compared to tangerines/mandarins from member countries, including Australia and Peru, of the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP). The import tariff rate for CPTPP tangerines/mandarins is 5.6 percent, while U.S. products face a 17 percent tariff. Read the full report from the USDA Foreign Agricultural Service HERE.

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