China has one of the world's oldest culinary traditions, but the popularity of its food is slumping miserably in Japan's lucrative market after a scare over poisoned dumplings.
At Foodex Japan, one of Asia's largest food exhibitions, China's booths were comparatively quiet as wholesalers and restaurant owners looked elsewhere to supply food to consumers in Asia's largest economy.
Advertisement"Compared with last year, we have seen a huge impact due to the incident," said a Chinese manager of Meikeduo Foods Co. at Foodex Japan, which opened Tuesday in suburban Tokyo.
"After the incident, we introduced stricter safety control of the products while advertising our efforts to the public," said the manager, who declined to be named.
About 2,400 companies from 59 regions and states are taking part in Foodex, formally known as the 33rd International Food and Beverage Exhibition.
More than 100 Chinese companies set up their booths -- but none was selling dumplings.
Earlier this year at least 10 Japanese people were hospitalised after eating Chinese-made dumplings laced with pesticide. China, whose soaring economy is built on exports, has denied the contamination took place at one of its factories, setting off a spat with Japan.
Japan imports 60 percent of its food, giving it the lowest self-sufficiency rate among the Group of Seven rich nations. China is Japan's top provider of food after the United States.
But the Japan Management Association, one of Foodex's hosting institutions, said the Chinese section had been scaled down to two-thirds of the space given last year.
Meikeduo, which produces processed chestnuts and canned fruits, was the only company from Hebei province near Beijing where the dumplings were produced.
Tadashi Yoshida, deputy general manager of the Japan Management Association, denied the reduction in space had anything to do with the dumpling scare.
"We asked the Chinese representative to select participating companies more strictly this year," Yoshida said.
However, Japanese supermarkets and other companies have already reported economic fallout from the scare over Chinese food.
The health ministry said the government has ordered the recall of 68 food products from China imported by 18 Japanese firms.
Japan Tobacco Inc., which imported the frozen dumplings from Tianyang Food plant, announced last week it would boost its own production of frozen foods.
Daiei Inc., one of Japan's major supermarket chains, said its sales of frozen food were down 30 percent from a year earlier about a week after the news of the poisoned dumplings broke.
Sales of domestic onions, pork and beef had all shot up by more than 150 percent.
But the scare has not ended the Japanese taste for Chinese food.
The Taiwanese section at Foodex was more vibrant, with the island's Chimei group advertising its dumplings and pork buns proudly.
"We have received at least twice or three times more orders from Japanese retailers," said Jimmy Fujiwara, chief manager of Chimei's Japan division.
"Mass retailers had chosen Chinese manufacturers because of lower costs," he said. "But they are now looking to outsource outside of China regardless of how much it costs."
In a sign of how far the scare has reached, a top Japanese lawmaker this week tried a joke about Chinese food.
Yuriko Koike, the former defence and environment minister, said in a speech Monday: A suicidal Chinese man swallowed pesticide but survived because it was mislabelled. Then he celebrated by eating dumplings and died from poisoning.
"What a black joke," she said.
The joke is certainly not funny for the Chinese firms at the food exhibition.
"If the impact lingers, it would benefit neither Japan or China," Zhang Tianfei, president of Fuzhou Chungming Tea Enterprises Co., said.