The government of Ibaraki Prefecture has hit a marketing snag in the promotion of its local Hitachiwagyu Beef specialty after a survey showed a significant percentage of young Japanese adults cannot read the kanji characters in its name.

Japan boasts numerous wagyu luxury beef variants, most famously the Kobe Beef from Hyogo Prefecture in the country's west. The Hitachiwagyu name refers to Hitachi Province, the pre-1875 name for Ibaraki Prefecture.

The meat is sourced from Japanese Black cattle raised in the prefecture just north of Tokyo for 30 months.

But a national online survey conducted with 300 participants in December showed some 57 percent of people in their 20s and 43 percent in their 30s were unable to correctly identify the kanji characters for "Hitachi."

Photo shows cuts of meat for sale at Nikunoiijima in Mito, Ibaraki Prefecture, on March 29, 2024. The curtain above the counter shows the kanji characters for Hitachiwagyu Beef. (Kyodo)

Older respondents fared better, with 33 percent of those in their 40s, 35 percent of people in their 50s and just 22 percent of individuals in their 60s offering the wrong answer.

"It brought home to me that customers aren't reading the name properly," said Mitsuru Iijima, president of butchery and meat selling company Nikunoiijima based in the prefectural capital Mito.

"Thinking about distribution outside the prefecture, it makes you worry if people can't remember the name," he added.

The area was known as "Hitachi-no-kuni," or Hitachi Province, under the ancient provincial system before the prefecture's establishment in 1875.

Its flat terrain and proximity to Tokyo have made it a leading agricultural prefecture, but it is not considered particularly appealing to Japanese people. In fact, an annual poll run by the Brand Research Institute last year ranked it the least attractive of Japan's 47 prefectures, a position it has held many times before.

As well as the prefecture's image problem, the beef brand has to overcome confusion created by the fact that the kanji used for "Hitachi" differs even among Ibaraki Prefecture municipalities. The city of Hitachinaka has even done away with kanji altogether and just presents its name in phonetic hiragana characters.

"If you're born and raised here, (the beef brand's kanji is) familiar. I'd never thought about levels of awareness outside the prefecture," an official at the prefectural government said.

The prefectural government says it currently has no plan for how to increase awareness of the correct reading of the brand name in Japan but the beef is already proving popular among foreign tourists who know it written "Hitachi" in the Latin alphabet.

"At any rate, we'll work hard to promote the product, and once people try it for themselves, that will help spread the correct reading of the name," an official said.

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