Jersey Milk in Japan? What’s that all about?

  • FOOD
  • As a Channel Islander (born and bred on the island of Guernsey; a dinosaur shaped island 31 miles from France and 75 miles from the UK) I was pretty surprised after having travelled more than 6,000 miles to Japan, to find dairy products with ‘Jersey’ written all over them – Jersey being but a stone’s throw away from my hometown. Jersey milk is well-known throughout the UK for being high quality and extremely fatty – and therefore extremely delicious.

    But how did it end up here, on the other side of the world?

    Paul Rusch

    Evidence of domesticated cattle in Japan dates back more than 2,000 years, but as recently as 100 years ago, very little milk was consumed by the Japanese aside from tofu made from soy milk. That all changed when Paul Rusch arrived in Japan in the 1920’s. He was a Christian volunteer, charity fundraiser, English Teacher and baseball enthusiast who would eventually change the face of dairy production in Japan. After World War Two, Rusch saw that Japan was a hungry land in need of drastic changes to its agriculture. Despite previous failed attempts to introduce dairy cows to Japan, Rusch looked at the harsh conditions of the countryside and knew that some breeds of cows must be able to survive it.

    Jersey cows

    He found out about Jersey cows – cattle which can produce creamy milk despite harsh conditions. They had evolved to thrive on grass and little more – a perfect combination for a place like post-war Japan, where grain to feel animals with could not be afforded. In the early fifties, Rusch imported thirty Jersey cows to Japan, as well as a hardy bull from America. All thrived, so much so that in 1953 the Ministry of Agriculture imported 580 more of the impressive Channel Islands animals.

    Despite the success of the animals, local people remained sceptical. Rusch provided free milk for school children, who soon grew to love the taste. When people saw how quickly the children’s health improved with the dairy in their diet, Rusch had finally won his battle in endearing the Japanese people to dairy products.

    These days, Jersey cows are the second most popular breed in Japan – there are over a million of them here. Children who now drink milk as part of their regular diet were born to parents and grandparents who had no experience of drinking milk in their childhood. It’s a booming business, and it doesn’t just stop at milk. You can buy Jersey milk ice-cream, yoghurt, cream, candy, pudding, cake… and it’s all thanks to one open-minded American called Paul Rusch.