The spirit of Operation Tomodachi lives on.

China is currently banning the import of all seafood from Japan. The policy went into effect in late August, at the same time as Japan began the release of treated water from the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant into the ocean.

The Chinese government says the policy is a health and safety measure. However, with the two countries’ administrations regularly butting heads over territorial, economic, and historical disputes, the seafood ban has been seen by critics as less about food safety, and more about trying to score political points against Japan. The release of the treated water has been approved by the International Atomic Energy Agency, who spent two years evaluating the plan and determined that it does not represent any health risk to consumers of Japanese seafood, lending further weight to the theory that the Chinese government is exploiting the situation as an opportunity to attempt to take Japanese products down a peg.

Regardless of the motivations, though, the ban remains in place, and with China ordinarily being the largest importer of Japanese seafood, it’s a rough development for fishermen in Japan. However, they’ve gained a new customer/ally, as the U.S. military has purchased 800-plus kilograms (1,763 pounds) of scallops.

In the above video from the U.S. embassy in Japan’s official Twitter account, ambassador Rahm Emanuel introduces the initiative, asserting that Japanese seafood is safe. “I have served the products to my own children [and] to some of the highest-elected officials in the United States Government and Armed Forces,” Emanuel says, adding “I can tell you, after being here for 20 months, [Japanese has] some of the best fish that I’ve eaten anywhere in the world.”

The scallops will be served in chow halls at U.S. military installations in Japan, as well as served in their restaurants and sold in their commissaries (supermarkets, in civilian-speak).

In the video, Emanuel mentions Operation Tomodachi (meaning “Operation Friends”), a humanitarian aid program carried out by Japan-stationed U.S. armed forces personnel for the people of the Tohoku region in the days following the March 11, 2011 earthquake and tsunami which involved over 200 ships and aircraft. “This spirit is carrying forward,” Emanuel says. “It started in Fukushima a little over a decade ago, and we’re going to continue to stand shoulder to shoulder.”

The embassy also posted a Japanese-language version of the tweet, which has prompted reactions from Japanese commenters including:

“To the American embassy, ambassador Rahm Emanuel, and the people of Yokota (Air) Base, thank you so much. I will never forget this kindness. This second Operation Tomodachi is bringing tears to my eyes.”
“I’m still grateful for the first Operation Tomodachi.”
“Japan and the U.S. are friends.”
“Thank you! I’m going to eat scallops for dinner tonight too.”
“Thank you, tomodachi! I’m curious to see what kind of recipes you make with these scallops.”

The U.S. military’s initial scallop purchase isn’t going to single-handedly make up for lost sales to China, which purchased over 100,000 metric tons of Japanese scallops in 2022. The plan is for U.S. bases in Japan to continue purchasing increased amounts of Japanese seafood of all types, though, and it’s also hard to think of a more genuine endorsement of the safety of Japanese seafood. But hey, that’s the sort of things friends are for, right?

Sources: Twitter/@usembassytokyo (1, 2), Reuters (1, 2), Asahi Shimbun
Featured image: Twitter/@usembassytokyo
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