Japan’s low-cost soul food noodles may become casualty of Ukraine war

By Elaine Lies and Akiko Okamoto

TOKYO (Reuters) – Ryu Ishihara will soon be boosting prices on his inexpensive bowls of soba noodles for the very first time in nearly a 10 years, as increasing prices and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine just take an not likely toll on Japan’s beloved buckwheat noodles.

However seen as just one of the most quintessential of Japanese food items – and eaten on New Year’s Eve for great luck – a great portion of the buckwheat that goes into the noodles arrives from Russia, globally the best buckwheat producer.

Russian buckwheat can even now be imported, but instability and transport disruptions have hampered and delayed procurement. That has extra to the suffering for soba store entrepreneurs this sort of as Ishihara who are already suffering as a world surge in commodity prices, coupled with the yen’s plunge, has despatched selling prices climbing.

Soy sauce, flour, the greens made use of for tempura toppings and even the fish applied for the broth have all risen in expense.

“The suppliers did all they could, but this time the situation’s so bad there is no way to prevent increasing charges. There are things I will have to elevate by 10 to 15 percent,” Ishihara mentioned in his slender store, steaming vats of drinking water driving him.

Soba is well-known as a inexpensive meal served cold or warm, generally slurped speedily by workers and students in slim stores that may possibly cut prices by carrying out without having seats. The noodles’ reduced calorie count and nutritious vitamin and mineral material helps make them balanced as well.

Ishihara’s rates operate from 290 yen ($2.25) up to 550 yen, with include-ons these as tempura and sets with rice costing far more.

“Now, with the war, the price tag of importing the buckwheat too has long gone up,” he reported.

Irrespective of soba’s iconic standing, Japan in 2020 produced only 42% of its buckwheat needs, in accordance to the Japan Soba Affiliation. The hole is stuffed by imports, with Russia the third-premier supply of buckwheat from 2018, in accordance to the Agriculture Ministry.

In 2021, Russia rose to 2nd, displacing China, and up right up until February it was No. 1.

Then it invaded Ukraine, incorporating to the surge in commodities price ranges, whilst Japan’s yen in the meantime plunged to a 20-calendar year low. On leading of that, sanctions and crackdowns on the Russian banking technique, which have frozen Moscow out of worldwide finance, have created it much more hard to settle some accounts.

The outcome has been problems for soba importers and millers like Hua Yue at the paying for department of Nikkoku Seifun Co Ltd in Matsumoto, a city in the regular soba-creating spot of Nagano.

Her firm imports buckwheat seeds from Russia, as properly as other nations which includes China, in 800- to 1,000-tonne sacks, while she declined to give exact quantities or percentages of how much every single state offers.

So much, the greatest challenges have been delays and a 30% rise in the selling price of Russian buckwheat in excess of the previous 6 months, nevertheless that’s partly because of to an export stoppage past yr that was fixed.

With Russia generating half the world’s buckwheat, troubles indicate demand from customers will change to 2nd-most important producer China. But with China cutting buckwheat output every calendar year, rates are probably to rise even more.

“So it may perhaps turn into challenging to take in soba at lower-charge sites,” she extra.

Ishihara’s faithful buyers, this kind of as Keidai Fukuhara, who will come twice a week, shrug higher selling prices off. But even they may have their limitations.

“It will even now be all correct,” the 27-yr-outdated office worker mentioned. “That is, if the costs continue to be all around 500 yen.”

($1 = 128.65 yen)

(Reporting by Akiko Okamoto, Elaine Lies and Shinji Kitamura. Editing by Gerry Doyle)