Three of the most well-known things about Fukushima Prefecture are its samurai history, its onsen and its fruit. In particular, its peaches are extremely famous. Fukushima Prefecture is the second biggest producer of peaches in the whole of Japan. In 2015, 21.8% of Japan’s peaches were grown in Fukushima!
In Fukushima City, there is a whole area known as ‘the Fruit Line’, where orchard upon orchard run alongside the roads . Driving through this area in summer – the peak of peach-growing season – is really a wonderful experience. It was one of the first places I visited after beginning my job last year.
Some orchards in Fukushima give visitors the chance to do ‘all-you-can-pick’ fruit picking, where you can take home all the fruit you can pick in 20 minutes for a set price.
A large proportion of orchards and farms in Fukushima are run by families who have worked in the industry for many generations. However, prejudice against food from Fukushima that has occurred since 3.11 has led to farmers struggling, and has caused many to give up their line of work.
In November, I visited Anzai Orchard in Fukushima City, to learn about Anzai san’s experience.
Anzai Orchard’s history stretches back 100 years. Over that century, Anzai Orchard’s production has been mainly focused on peaches, pears, and apples. The combination of rice bran and organic fertilizer used when growing the peaches leads to their juicy, sweet taste.
Not only is Anzai Orchard a place for visitors to pick fruit, but Anzai san’s family also open up their house as a exhibition and café space, as well as holding pizza cooking events from time to time. They also run a small fruit shop inside the orchard.
As it was November, my visit coincided with the end of the apple-picking season, so we got to pick some apples whilst Anzai san showed us around, and were able to take some home with us!
Anzai san explained how apples in Japan tend to all be picked by hand from the branch, rather than using machinery to knock them off the trees. He also told us that sickness in an orchard one year can really affect the next year’s harvest, and about how if a red apple has a yellow “bottom”, then it is ready to be picked. He said we should take an apple from the branch and try it out, so we searched around for yellow-bottomed apple.
As you may be able to tell from the photograph above, apples in Japan are huge. They look even bigger because I have unusually small hands! Japanese fruit is delicious, and Anzai san’s apples were no exception!
Nakamura san, who runs cooking lessons and yoga classes in Koriyama, prepared a delicious lunch for us, made from local fruit and vegetables. As we ate, we listened to their stories.
Due to the nuclear disaster, Anzai san’s sales for the year 2011 dropped to 10% of his average year. Also, the widespread decontamination work taking place throughout the prefecture to rid soil and tree bark of radioactive substances had the knock-on effect of reducing the amount of pears and peaches he was able to grow in 2012 by 90%.
Man-power on the orchard had been lacking before the disaster, but the situation became exacerbated after 3.11. Despite most of Anzai san’s customers being those loyal to his brand, who bought from him year in, year out, the number of customers also dramatically plunged.
Japan has one of the strictest regulations regarding radioactive substances in food produce in the whole world. The limit for general foods is 100 bq (Becquerel) per kg. All produce grown in Fukushima is carefully monitored, and nothing that exceeds 100 bq/kg during the monitoring process is allowed onto shop shelves.
After the disaster, Anzai san had been seriously worrying about whether his orchard would ever be an economically viable business again. However, from 2013 produce from his farm consistently displayed levels of around 4 bq/kg upon testing, which gave him new confidence. Nowadays those levels have dropped to less than 1 bq/kg.
Although bringing his old customers back has proved a challenge, this hasn’t stopped Anzai san from proactively trying to find new ways of promoting his fruit. He has gained a lot of what he referred to as “new fans” over the last six years – new customers and also those who want to learn more about the farm and his experience.
He currently earns around 60% of what he did before the disaster, which is a big improvement since 2011, although there is a long way to go. Anzai san wants to visit many different orchards around Japan to study ways of creating innovative products from his fruits – for example as wine or jams.
Nakamura san said that she wanted to learn more about marketing, as well as conducting market research and getting young people interested in working for and marketing agricultural produce.
When asked about his happiest experience since 3.11, Anzai san said that he has enjoyed having many people from all over the world coming to visit his farm. He is grateful for their support, and is really happy to have been able to meet many different people and to learn from them.
I am certainly happy to have had the chance to meet him. He is a very sweet, positive and inspirational guy, who hasn’t let challenges stand in the way of doing the thing he loves the most.
Here’s a little chart of the main fruit picking seasons in Fukushima! You can also do strawberry picking in the winter months!
Click here for more information about fruit-picking in Fukushima City.
Whether it is to speak to people like Anzai san and Nakamura san, or to see how many cherries you can fit in a bucket in 20 minutes, I wholeheartedly recommend a visit to Fukushima’s orchards!
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