Last week, Japan restaurant chain Zenshoku began offering dishes using U.S. beef at its 57 barbecue restaurants in Tokyo and 11 of the Japan's 47 prefectures. The move made the company the first major restaurant chain in Japan to serve U.S. beef since the government dropped its import ban in late July.

This week, Yoshinoya D&C Co. announced it will resume sales of "gyudon" dishes, a serving of hot rice topped with slices of U.S. beef, for the first time in 19 months -- for one day only -- on Sept. 18. The company will offer 1 million of the dishes at its outlets across Japan. Sources say the company will continue to limit beef bowl sales until it can secure a stable supply of U.S. beef. Yoshinoya has 1,010 outlets across Japan.

In addition, last Friday, regional supermarket operator Nalx became the first retailer in the country to put U.S. beef back on its shelves at its eight branches in Kanazawa. Company sales manager Miki Himoto said the fresh shipment, from National Beef Packing Co., "did much better than we had expected. Many customers welcomed the return of the U.S. beef, as it gives them a broader selection."

"Of course, there are customers who are still worried about the safety of American beef, and they have a right not to buy it," he said in a Taipei Times article. "As a retailer, we decided to sell U.S. beef because we believe it's our job to offer customers a choice."

Nalx is among five Japanese supermarket chains that have ordered U.S. beef through supermarket cooperative CGC Japan Co. Four other grocery chains are expected to soon start selling U.S. beef, the Kyodo News reports.

The report says major Japanese supermarket chains are taking a wait-and-see stance. Even Seiyu Ltd., the Japan unit of Wal-Mart Stores Inc., with about 400 stores nationwide, is on the sidelines. The only other retailer currently carrying US beef is Costco, which is selling U.S. product in five of its stores.

Meanwhile, the Japan Times reports Hong Kong may soon lift its ban on Japanese beef imports into the territory. The two nations are working out final details of an accord that would reopen trade since the market shut in September 2001 upon discovery of the first of Japan's 26 cases of BSE.

It's expected that Japanese exporters will begin shipping beef to Hong Kong in the fall, if Hong Kong is satisfied with inspection procedures and food-safety measures taken at meat-processing facilities in Japan, the sources said.
-- Joe Roybal