Japan's food, agriculture, forestry and fisheries exports in the first six months of 2023 rose 9.6 percent from a year earlier to a record 714.4 billion yen ($5.0 billion), as demand in the restaurant and retail industries recovered amid the continued waning impact of COVID-19, government data showed Friday.

The rise in the January to June period was boosted by robust shipments to China, up 16.2 percent to 139.4 billion yen, and Hong Kong, up 25.8 percent to 115.4 billion yen, as well as by a weaker yen, according to the data released by the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries.

But the ministry said the situation surrounding the markets of China and Hong Kong must be closely monitored.

Customers shop for sushi and other seafood products at a supermarket in Hong Kong on July 12, 2023. (CNS/Kyodo)

Both have recently intensified radiation inspections of seafood imports from Japan, causing delays in customs clearance.

The tightened measures came ahead of the release of treated water with low concentrations of tritium from the crippled Fukushima nuclear plant into the sea. The discharge is planned for sometime in the summer.

Nine countries and regions still impose import restrictions on food from parts of Japan after the 2011 earthquake and tsunami disaster that triggered a nuclear accident at the Fukushima plant. The Japanese government continues to ask for the remaining restrictions to be lifted.

Japan has set its target of raising annual agricultural and food exports to 2 trillion yen by 2025 and to 5 trillion yen by 2030.

By item, exports of pearls in the first half of 2023 more than doubled to 22.3 billion yen thanks to renewed attention to the high quality of Japanese pearls at an international trade fair for pearls and jewelry in Hong Kong held this year for the first time in four years, according to the ministry.

Bottles of Japanese sake and other beverages at a shop selling imported goods in Beijing are pictured on July 26, 2023. (Kyodo) 

Meanwhile, Japanese sake exports fell 14.4 percent to 20.0 billion yen, as exports to the United States slumped due to inflation, the ministry said.

The United States was the third biggest market for Japanese agricultural exports, after China and Hong Kong, with 96.4 billion yen, down 7.9 percent.

Taiwan came in fourth at 67.4 billion yen, up 11.9 percent, followed by South Korea at 35.6 billion yen, up 19.9 percent, the data showed.