Yoshinoya Beef Bowl to Grow Rice, Veggies in Fukushima

The company known by Americans for providing tasty Japanese-style beef and chicken bowls has created a joint venture to begin farming rice and vegetables in the nuclear-crisis-blighted Fukushima region.

The joint venture brings together Japan’s Yoshinoya Holdings Co., which operates the gyudon beef bowl restaurant chain, with a group of Fukushima-region farmers. Yoshinoya will have 49% of the voting rights. The venture is capitalized at ¥10 million ($100,000) and will begin growing rice, onions and napa cabbage — a mainstay of Yoshinoya’s veggie bowls — in fiscal 2014. A part of its goal will be to provide employment to displaced locals.

Two and half years after the earthquake and the resulting tsunami that crippled the Fukushima 1 nuclear power plant, most Japanese remain leery of food grown or caught in the region. But as soil and water radiation levels outside the immediate vicinity of the Fukushima nuclear plant have subsided to safe levels allowing return of residents to most of the former no-go zone, many outsiders have warmed to efforts to help revive local agriculture and fisheries on which much of the region’s elderly population remains dependent

The nominal motivation for Yoshinoya for participating in a joint venture that may tarnish its brand is potential cost savings. The more important reason is a desire to enjoy the goodwill of the region’s customer base by participating in its rehabilitation as one of Japan’s food-producing regions. And given the relatively small scale of the venture, its crops are unlikely to be used outside of the region.