A Guide to Importing Coffee Beans into Japan

Japanese flag

By tradition, Japan isn’t a coffee-drinking country. The Eastern Asian nation, where the preparation of matcha green tea is ceremonial, is actually better known for its tea culture. However, in the 1960s Japan started to consume it more and more, and since then grabbing a coffee has become an everyday staple. 

Although Japan does cultivate its own coffee, mostly in the Ogasawara islands and in the prefectures of Nagasaki, Miyazaki, Kagoshima, and Okinawa, the country also imports coffee beans. And a lot of them. 

In fact, Japan’s second-biggest coffee trading partner is Colombia, where we’re based. In 2019, Japan imported $196 million worth of coffee from the Latin American country.

On this note, we thought we’d share our expertise on importing green coffee beans into Japan, to help you on your coffee buying journey.

Finding a Supplier

When importing coffee to Japan, it’s important your supplier knows their market. Don’t be afraid to ask them, if they have imported to Japan before? Do they understand the Japanese market? And what can they advise you about the likes and dislikes of Japan’s specialty coffee scene?

Finding a trustworthy, reliable coffee supplier, who knows their stuff when it comes to country-specific regulations and requirements for importing coffee to Japan will also be key to your success. 

There are three sets of legislation importers must comply with when importing coffee beans into Japan: 

  • Plant Protection Act – Beans of dried green coffee in Japan that have not been heat processed are handled under the same regulations as fresh produce. According to the Plant Protection act, they must undergo quarantine procedures at airports or ports and be screened for contamination by pests or harmful plants. This act does not apply to roasted beans or processed products.
  • Food Sanitation Act – All pesticide residues (including feed additives and drugs for animals) which might have been used in coffee beans are subject to food sanitation before entering Japan. 
  • Customs Act – Japan’s customs act bans the import of all incorrectly-labeled food products.

In search of a green coffee supplier for Japan? Discover our range of Colombian green coffee beans for export.

Arranging Shipping

It’s prohibited to send green coffee by courier to Japan without special permission issued in advance of shipments, so if you’re planning to ship over green coffee, ensure your supplier works out all required processes before sending any samples or small amounts by FedEx or DHL.

There are two main seaports around Tokyo, Tokyo and Yokohama, which — if you’re importing the beans from Colombia — are easily accessible from the country’s Buenaventura port.  If you decide to use FCL for your shipping, there is a direct line between Colombia and Yokohama, Japan’s second-largest city.

Shipping Costs 

Your supplier will include shipping costs in the final order quote which will vary depending on where you’re shipping from and on the Incoterms you negotiate. Be aware that a large percentage of logistics costs can actually come from the Colombian side, including truck transport to the port, port fees, and export taxes. 

Japanese Coffee Imports Product Labeling Requirements

As per Japan’s Consumer Affairs Agency (CAA), if you’re importing coffee to Japan you must conform to the labeling standards outlined by the Food Labeling Law. Remember, the labels must be in Japanese and include the following information: 

  • Name of the product
  • Country of origin
  • Contents
  • Name and address of the importer
  • Ingredients, other than additives, in descending order of weight percentage
  • Food additives in descending order of weight on a separate line from other ingredients
  • Net weight in metric units
  • Best-before date
  • Storage instructions
  • Genetically modified components where their quantity exceeds 5% of the total product
  • Nutritional value

If you’re planning to send the products in a case — like a wooden crate, for example — ensure that the wood is treated in line with ISO certifications. You must also label the crate accordingly and ensure this information is also reflected on the documents that match the crate. Your label should state: 

  • Sender
  • Destination port
  • Origin port
  • Gross weight

Customs Clearance Declarations in Japan 

Before importing green coffee beans into Japan, it’s important you first obtain a Phytosanitary Certificate from the government of the country you’re exporting the beans from. Regardless of the quantity and intended use, without this, no plant imports are allowed in the country from overseas. 

After this, you must then submit an import declaration to Japanese Customs for them to be able to carry out an import inspection if needed. Guidance on how to fill in an import declaration form can be found here

If your coffee import is likely to require an import inspection, you’ll need to submit an application to the plant protection station that has jurisdiction over the port, or airport, where your shipment is going to be imported. This application must be submitted alongside an invoice, packing list, and airway or seaway bill. Once these are approved, authorities will issue an inspection certificate.

So to summarize, the documents required for import inspection are: 

  • Phytosanitary Certificate
  • Invoice
  • Packing List
  • Airway bill
  • Accompanying lab certification to ensure no disallowed chemicals were applied to the beans
  • Certificate of Origin optional based on individual requirements 

In Japan, any person wishing to import items from overseas must also declare them to the respective customs office holding jurisdiction over the bonded area — the designated area where imported goods from overseas are temporarily stored until customs formalities have been completed.

After the necessary inspections have been carried out, an import permit must be obtained, which will be reviewed by the Minister of Economy, Trade, or the Director-General of Customs. 

If you’re managing the importation process without the assistance of an experienced international coffee supplier, then hiring a licensed customs broker is a good idea. They can help you with the application and ensure you meet all the government requirements for your coffee import, avoiding obstacles.

Coffee Import Customs Duties in Japan

According to Japanese Customs Tariff Law, importers that have buyers whose residence, office, place of business (or equivalent) is in Japan are exempt from paying customs duties. 

If this is not the case, the customs value of imported goods will be the transaction value, adjusted to take into account certain additional costs such as transport, insurance, and other expenses. 

For more detailed information on additional costs and what they include, check out the Japanese customs website, which also offers a guide to calculating the tariff duty on your import.

Something important to note is that if your coffee shipment has a total value of less than 10,000 Japanese yen — approximately US $95 — duty will not apply. 

Other import duties you’ll need to consider are Most Favored Nation (MFN) tariffs, which are what countries promise to impose on imports from other countries in the World Trade Organization (WTO).

  • MFN (most favored nation) applied duties – in 2018 these averaged 14.1%
  • MFN (most favored nation) bound duties – in 2018 these averaged 138%

Wondering how to pay customs duty on your coffee import? Here’s some additional advice

Sales Tax on Coffee Sales in Japan

Sales tax on retail coffee sales in Japan is charged at a standard 10% as an additional consumption tax. 

Discover Our Range of Direct Trade Coffee Beans  

Here at Those Coffee People, we’re experts in sourcing and supplying the finest direct trade Colombian green coffee beans. We venture off into remote areas of Colombia’s beautiful coffee regions to search for new and exclusive varieties, exploring the country town by town to identify the most unique and desirable origins for you and your customers.

Explore our unique Colombian coffee origins here and discover the story of every estate we work with. We can fulfill and deliver orders of any size for buyers in Japan, contact us for more information. 

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