Two announcers behind a table with olive oil bottles on the left, and a packed audience on the right

Olive Japan is one of the largest, most reputable international olive oil competitions. In 2021, its tenth year, 811 olive oils from 27 countries competed—the most ever, and the most in any olive oil contest in Asia or Oceania. In 2022, its scrupulous judging, educational efforts, and consumer outreach will continue to benefit both producers and consumers.

New Zealand judge Margaret Edwards considers Olive Japan, a major sponsor of greekliquidgold.com, “an exemplary competition that is run in an extremely professional manner. Olive producers who submit their oils for judging in the competition can be assured that each oil will receive the attention and consideration it deserves, both by the organization and the judges, and be blind-tasted and judged on its merits.”

Turkish judge Dilsen Oktay praises organizer Toshiya Tada’s “great efforts to promote olive oil and olive culture in Japan.” Several judges mention that Tada considers the needs of both producers and consumers. As British judge Johnny Madge points out, Tada “always makes it clear to us that our first priority is to consider the consumer who may be buying oils thanks to the prizes given by Olive Japan,” rather than prioritizing the “very bitter and potent olive oils that the general consumer finds extreme,” as olive oil judges often do.

Direct consumer outreach

This year, the plan is for an international panel of judges to gather in Tokyo May 16 to 20, with the competition followed by the Olive Japan Show - Olive Marche, in a major department store in downtown Tokyo on July 3-4 (pandemic conditions and regulations permitting).

many people walking around many booths inside a shopping center

As American judge Alexandra Kicenik Devarenne explains, “the Olive Japan marketplace event is a model for consumer engagement. It provides an opportunity for producers to showcase their winning products. The event is always busy and fun, with lots of educational and culinary content for the visitors. The fact that an award from OJ comes with this chance for face-to-face consumer interaction provides a significant benefit to the producer,” helping olive oil businesses become more visible in Japan, while enabling consumers to learn a great deal about extra virgin olive oil.

Judges and judging

When Greek Liquid Gold invited Olive Japan judges to share any comments about the competition that came to mind, their responses were overwhelmingly positive. According to German judge Richard Wolny, “Olive Japan is one of the best organized competitions worldwide. The judges are from all continents, and the level is very high regarding the know-how. So the award winners can be proud of receiving a prize.” Devarenne added, “there is a good balance on each panel of men and women, North and South, New World and Old World. The collegial atmosphere at Olive Japan is fantastic, and it makes the judging exceptionally strong.”

Similarly, Italian judge Luciana Squadrilli reports that the “experienced tasters,” who keep in touch year-round, the excellent organization, and the transparency of the competition have made Olive Japan “the best experience of my professional career in extra virgin olive oil.” Oktay also appreciates the way “everything was thought out to the smallest detail, from very useful heating devices, to green tea served during breaks. Experienced judges mentor new judges,” quickly introducing “amazing” harmony into each group.

three Olive Japan judges conversing at a table

Like other judges, Devarenne points out that “the OJ judging protocols are excellent; there are many innovations that make the process stronger and more fair.” For example, Spanish judge Agusti Romero Aroca emphasizes the importance of the coding of the samples, the “reduced number of samples” tasted each day, and the breaks between sessions “in order to reduce the risk of tiring. All these procedures,” says Aroca, help “guarantee the independence and optimum performance of the tasters’ assessment.”

British judge Johnny Madge also values “the seriousness of the competition. Before even flying to Tokyo, we are asked to sign a document declaring any commercial interest in olive oil producers” so “none of their oils will be tasted at my table. I appreciate that we only taste a maximum of 35 oils a morning and that we only taste in the morning when, I believe, our palates are at their best. Olive Japan is the only competition that I judge in where we are told the varieties that are in the oil. I think this is an excellent approach” that enables the appropriate consideration of each sample.

Tunisian judge Mariem Gharsallaoui considers Olive Japan “the strictest and most reliable” olive oil competition. She respects the organizers for having “the wisdom and the courage not to send samples all over the world to each taster” during the pandemic, instead doing “the evaluation in the same place in the same conditions, so that the participating oils are judged in the same condition and have the same chance” to win prizes.

Education

“But probably the most important aspect of Olive Japan for me,” Madge adds, “is the fact that one of the purposes of the competition is to help producers make better oil. If they read our comments and they are listening, they will start to follow better procedures.” Judges’ comments are sent to producers for this purpose.

Japanese judge Takeyasu Kubota views Olive Japan as “an academy” in another way, too. “Judges from all over the world can exchange information on orchard and milling management for EVOO production, marketing and so on. The judges will bring the latest and most useful information obtained there back to their own countries” to help improve the world’s olive oil.

Details

Registration is open until May 2; samples must be received by the organizers in Tokyo by May 9. (See the competition rules for more information.) Winners will be announced on May 26.

The Olive Japan International Extra Virgin Olive Oil Competition is organized by the Olive Oil Sommelier Association of Japan (OSAJ), Japan’s only professional organization for training and certifying both consumers and traders as olive oil experts. OSAJ was established in order to develop the quality oriented olive oil market in Japan and educate Japanese consumers about extra virgin olive oil.


Thanks to Toshiya Tada and the Olive Oil Sommelier Association of Japan for the photos used with this article.

Olive Japan is a major sponsor of greekliquidgold.com. All businesses, organizations, and competitions involved with Greek olive oil, the Mediterranean diet, and/or agrotourism or food tourism in Greece, as well as others interested in supporting Greeks working in these sectors, are invited to consider the advertising and sponsorship opportunities on the Greek Liquid Gold: Authentic Extra Virgin Olive Oil website. The only wide-ranging English-language site focused on news and information from the Greek olive oil world, it has helped companies reach consumers in more than 215 countries around the globe.

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