A restaurant specializing in horse meat here has continued to be filled to capacity even after the national 3 percent consumption tax hike took effect April 1, a surge in demand that officials attribute to the Abenomics economic revival.
“The number of customers still remains the same (despite the tax increase),” said the owner of Suganoya Ginzadori, located in the busy entertainment district in the heart of the city.
The restaurant's popularity mirrors the growth in Kumamoto's horse meat industry, which is seeing production numbers rise for the first time in nine years.
The number of horses slaughtered for their meat in Kumamoto Prefecture, which accounts for 40 percent of the nation's total production, had been decreasing since the peak of 8,523 animals in fiscal 2004. In fiscal 2012, the figure had dipped below 5,000 animals. But the number in fiscal 2013 climbed by more than 20 percent from the previous year to 6,018, the first in nine years.
Officials in the horse meat industry in Fukushima and Aomori prefectures, which also saw an increase, attributed the rise to the effects of the Abe administration's package of economic policies.
More expensive than beef, horse meat is rich in iron and vitamins, while containing about half the calories of beef and pork, and is considered by many to be a food that builds stamina.
However, the price of horse meat remains high, with most of the marbled meat costing more than 2,000 yen ($19.5) for 100 grams.
“The consumption is easily affected by the economic climate in the nation,” said an official with the Kumamoto prefectural government’s livestock division.
Although horse meat is a specialty of Kumamoto Prefecture, most of what is available to consumers in Japan comes from horses imported from Canada and other nations and then fattened up here before slaughter.
Because the breeding season for horses is limited to spring, Japan has to rely on the imports to boost production to meet consumer demand.
Hiromitsu Suga, an executive with Senko Farm Co., a large horse meat wholesaler in Mifune, Kumamoto Prefecture, said although the industry lauds the increase in demand, it is having difficulty meeting the orders because breeding is difficult and it cannot easily increase the number of horses for fattening.