At this time, there are no national standards or formal grading system set in Japan by any one centralized agency for quality and grading specifications on fresh market tomatoes. However, there are standards that the Japanese tomato grower co-ops adhere to and these are the characteristics that tomatoes must have if they are to be acceptable to wholesale and retail buyers.

There are five size grades and three quality grades based on shape and damage for Japanese tomatoes, although there is no visual reference chart such as is available in the U.S. Size specifications are set by the number of tomatoes in one carton, rather than a specific weight and/or diameter of one tomato. The three quality grades are indicated in two ways, using either Japanese characters meaning “superior,” or “good”, or using the letter grades of A, B, or C.

Size Specification 16
2L Up to 15 pieces/carton
L 18/20 pieces/carton
M 24 pieces/carton
S 28-30 pieces/carton
2S 32-35 pieces/carton


The basic weight of one carton for all sizes is about 4kg (8.8 lbs). While the tomato size is not specified, MAFF (the Japanese Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries) does have standards for carton size. Most of the growers and coops use this specification, with only small differences between growing areas. The specified dimensions for the cartons are 430 mm x 290 mm 75 mm (length x width x height) or approximately 16.9″ x 11.4″ x 3″.

While Japanese tomatoes are almost exclusively sold in single layer flats, these flats are often bundled together in packs of two or three. Buyers will order an 8kg package, but actually receive two of the single-layer flats. The wholesaler will break the bundles and sell single flats, also, but may charge a 15-20% premium. Boxes are often elaborately designed.

Food service outlets purchase their product on a daily basis, and have little to no storage space. “Therefore, the 25 lb. bulk carton would probably be inappropriate for their needs. Box specifications should be discussed during a sale.

Exporting Procedures

The Canadian hot house industry is required to use 1″ “all block letters, and though this was not mentioned in the information about U.S. tomatoes, it may make sense to alleviate any questions. MAFF, (the Japanese Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries) has removed the phytosanitary barriers for U.S. tomatoes for all varieties. Japanese law dictates that phytosanitary decisions are based on variety by variety testing.

All varieties must be shipped directly from the U.S.A. without calling at any port.

Japan has a reputation for stringent import regulations and procedures. The experiences of other commodities have included strict pesticide residue inspection and in some cases, fumigation. At this time, no inspections prior to shipment are required. Shippers will be expected to adhere to the standard Japanese food laws and import regulations. Although a trading company or exporter handles most of these details, it is important for a shipper to be aware of the procedures, since actions taken on the fruit in the U.S. can have an impact on the results of the import clearance procedures.

Three agencies are involved in the import clearance of fresh produce. MAFF, the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, who check phytosanitary certificates; MHW, the Ministry of Health and Welfare, Who check for excessive pesticide residues, and Customs. Of these, the MAFF (Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries) inspection is the most likely source of problems.

Plant Quarantine Inspection Inspection takes place at the port of entry. Japanese inspections are unusually strict. Any products carrying live insects, whether or not those insects were established in Japan, will be fumigated or possibly rejected. In 1992, approximately 7.6% of fruit imports were fumigated (much of it strawberries), usually with methyl bromide.

Pesticide Residue Inspection

Each shipment must have an Import Notification which MHW (the Ministry of Health and Welfare) signs before the product goes to market. The MHW takes random samples from shipments to test for pesticide residues. Approximately one in ten shipments are tested. It is not unlikely that U.S. tomatoes will be subjected to intense scrutiny during the first few years of imports. The MHW is currently testing for Maximum Residue Levels (MRL’s) for 103 pesticides on 130 different commodities. If a product goes above the established limits, it is subjected to a “100 percent Hold-and-Test” on all future shipments.

A complete listing of tomato tolerances is not yet available, but will be shortly since the market is now officially open. Florida tomatoes should not have trouble with residue problems if tomatoes are washed as the marketing order dictates. Post harvest fungicides are not recommended (see below)

Post Harvest Food Additives

The Japanese Food Sanitation Law considers post-harvest treatments to be food additives, which are much more tightly controlled in Japan than are pesticides. Post-harvest wax coatings are considered a food additive in Japan under this law. Any food additives must be approved by the Ministry of Health and Welfare and specified on import notifications and product labels. However, there are no post-harvest fungicides or any other post-harvest chemical for non-citrus fruit or vegetables which are legal under Japanese law.

Import Protocol for Tomatoes

The Japanese government lists the following requirements for a smooth import inspection.

  1. The name of the variety is to be stated on phytosanitary certificates to be attached to tomato shipments.
  2. The details of the shipment are to be verified when one phytosanitary certificate covers more than one variety.
  3. The name or symbol of the variety is to be indicated on packing carton of tomatoes to be imported.
  4. The meaning of the symbols (if used) of the variety is to be given to MAFF (Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries) in advance of shipment.

As this phytosanitary ban has recently been lifted there may be additional changes. Canadian tomato growers received clearance to enter Japan with their product recently. Seven hothouse varieties were approved. Canadian shippers must include an affidavit from the grower as to the tomato variety and affirm that the product was grown on their premises. The growers agree that their operation is open to the Ag Canada inspectors to insure that the product was grown on premises. They are also required to prepare a phytosanitary certificate. Keeping accurate and detailed records would be advisable.