An emotionally powerful word, evoking a gentle longing for simplicity and joy.
Home. A place of comfort, warmth and rest. A place to emerge, a place to return.
I have met no people more rooted in the concept of place than agriculturists. For generations, they have been the protectors of blessed, productive land, water, air and life–the natural links between people and places.
Out of the love of place, agriculturists produce food, closing that sacred circle wherein nature provides life.
“I long, as does every human being, to be at home wherever I find myself.” ~ Maya Angelou
It should therefore come as no surprise to U.S. agriculturists that the Japanese people carry a strong sense of home in their hearts–a sense of loyalty, and a resilient trust, in the places, the regions, the towns, they call home. Given this, I am not surprised to learn that food produced in specific regions resonates with consumers in Japan.
On Sunday, I had the honor to visit the childhood home of one of my Eisenhower Fellowship hosts, Takeichi-san. As a boy, he lived in a small village near Gotemba, at the foot of Mt. Fuji. He and his wife invited me into their summer home, near where he lived as a boy. They introduced me to the neighbors—rice farmers, growers of magnificent gardens, artists, architects, a chef who baked us a delicious cake. In short, these noble people opened their hearts, their homes and their places to me. Powerful gifts—the gifts of beauty, wisdom, food and place. In the midst of the day, I closed my eyes, let the breeze blow around me, and in that moment, I found myself…home.When we offer food produced in the U.S. to Japanese consumers, we are inviting these people across the world into our places—our homes, our farms, our products. It is only right that we should also offer them the story of our offering, telling them how proud we are of our heritage and our systems, our families and our particular love of the land.
I’ve always hated when people refer to public relations as “spin.” Call me naive, but I believe that brilliant public relations means telling the truth, as transparently as you can, in a way people understand and trust, so that you earn the confidence of those you hope will accept your product—even pay their hard-earned money for the thing you offer them.What does this mean for U.S. beef in Japan?
With a strong sense of place, and a desire for the story behind the food, we must find a way to earn back the wholehearted trust of the Japanese people. We must evoke anshun – that feeling of trust and safety. We must tell them the story of American beef. We must honor them, by telling them how we honor our places, our families, our land. For through these stories comes trust, and desire for our product.
I am coming to believe that only through the power of our story, told through the longstanding, local relationships we have nurtured for decades, will we completely regain the market we’ve lost here in Japan. Only through finding experiential linkages with others far from our own front doors, can we engage them as customers for what we offer. Truly, anshun is not an alien concept to agriculturists in the U.S., those who trust in place and community, who may distrust outsiders. We who are in ag easily understand the Japanese desire for honesty, transparency and a deeply rooted place.
In a meeting today with several USDA officials from the embassy, we discussed branding in Japan. But far from just a foil label or a flashy commercial, we talked about what a connection with Japanese consumers would mean for U.S. beef producers. We discussed innovation, visibility, relevance. Again, and again, we discussed the power of relationships and long-term commitment to the Japanese market. We discussed the quality and care required for products marketed here. In short, we discussed the story behind the brand we call U.S. beef—and how we can tell it more transparently.
At one point, we discussed the importance of customer focus, in general and specifically with regard to TPP. Many groups tout the advantages TPP will have for American producers—and there are many. For example, our ability to add tremendous value to our variety meat market in selling these products overseas– one of the big advantages that we often overlook in favor of glitzier middle-meat potential.
But, for one moment, let us think not of ourselves, but of our customers in Japan. What will the availability of high-quality, lean American beef mean to them? Better choices, a healthier lifestyle, affordable beef and variety. Take this moment to step outside our borders, and think about our customers, about the Japanese people and what they want from us, and how we can provide it. The cultural differences between us are many. To market effectively, we must understand the culture thoroughly and be willing to step into another place. A place where others call home.