Tokyo and many other places of Japan have called on people to stay at home due to the spread of COVID-19,  and teleworking has been encouraged as an alternative. I myself have been ordered to reduce my visits to the office by 30%, so I’ve had a lot more opportunities to work at home. Once you get used to it, working online is very convenient. It has also shown us many possibilities outside of work as well. I’d like to show you a real-life example using one of my favorite things – apples.

Japanese apples

When you hear “Apple” you may immediately think Apple the company, but when you ask a Japanese person where apples are produced, I think they’ll pretty much all answer Aomori Prefecture (which incidentally, is where I am from).

Apples are grown all around the world, from China to the US to Europe. In Japan, 60% of apples are produced in Aomori Prefecture, which is close to the Kitakami candidate site for the ILC. (Of course, Iwate Prefecture, which is home to the candidate site, is also a big apple producer) Apple growing techniques were brought to Japan in the 1800s from the US and France, and there a number of different varieties that have been developed in Japan.

My grandfather was an apple farmer. Every autumn,

I’d receive so many apples that it would be impossible to eat them all.

The most produced apple in Japan

By the by, my personal favorite variety of apple is the Fuji apple. It’s got a great crunch with the right mix of tartness and sweetness. It’s a very balanced apple. Around half of the apples produced in Japan are Fuji apples, which shows how popular it is.

Also, the “Fuji” in Fuji apples doesn’t stand for Mt. Fuji. These apples were developed in Fujisaki Town in Aomori. So you can see why everyone equates apples with Aomori in Japan. (This is a rare trivia fact – not even many Japanese people know this!)

Apples in crisis

As you can see, apples are quite beloved in Japan, but the industry is in danger. The first threat is the diversification of the food market. In the past twenty years, apple production has reduced by 15-20% in both Europe and Japan. Even my sons say that they prefer oranges. “It’s much easier to peel the skin off them,” they say. (My sons may be a little lazy)

Climate change is another huge issue. If things continue as they are, by the end of this century, the average temperature of Aomori could reach current-day temperatures in Tokyo (which is about 700 km to the south). Apples need a cool climate, so many are growing worried that we won’t be able to grow apples here in the future. There’s also the problem of the farmers growing older with no one to replace them.

You can see Mount Iwaki in the distance behind the orchard.

I love this view, but there may come a day where I won’t be able to see it anymore.

Recruiting apple tree owners through  crowdfunding

While I was working at home during the COVID crisis, I took a break to surf the internet and found a crowdfunding project where you can become the owner of an apple tree through donating. It used to be that you would just buy apples at the supermarket and that would be it. But by becoming the owner of an apple tree, you can join in periodic Zoom meetings to see the field and tree conditions, and learn more about apple farming. Then at the end, you get sent a bunch of tasty apples in the autumn.

My sons were fascinated by this. We applied for this crowdfunding project (using Dad’s meager allowance). Well, it’s quite reasonable if it’s something that contributes to my sons growing to love apples.

This is my tree, that I’m the owner of. I kind of feel a paternal instinct for it.

The first Zoom meeting

We had our first Zoom meeting the other day. The project runner showed us the apple orchard and was a great teacher, telling us about the process of apple production.

Next was Q&A, and my sons had tons of questions.

The project runner was explaining how they think that Fuji apples are the most delicious because of their balance of tart and sweet (I think so too), when my sons started typing in the chat.

“Isn’t the sweetest, most tart apple the best?” Pretty typical kid questions, but the project runner’s answer was both professional and easy-to-understand. “If apples are too sweet, they go rotten too quickly. If that’s the case, then they can’t be sold. So usually we can’t eat those types of sweet apples.”

Although, even if they’re too delicate to be sold, they’d definitely be tasty…I’d love to try (they’re called Eikoga apples).

My two sons participating a ZOOM meeting. “This is really fun!” they said.

May is for apple flowers

They also tell us about our apple tree on Facebook periodically. May is when apple flowers bloom. “So pretty…” Our job is done with that simple comment, but at the apple farm, they now have to pollinate these flowers. They raise bees to help them. Once the flowers bloom, in order to concentrate the most nutrients in one place, they leave one flower in the center of the bunch and pluck off the rest. They explained this just as clearly as everything else.

COVID has led to the changes of many things, but in the Norita household, my children and I are able to travel to the apple orchard from in front of our computer. That might be the biggest change of all.

Cherry blossoms in Japan are of course quite pretty,

but these flowers blooming on the apple trees in the orchard are breathtaking.


Jinpachi Apple Farm’s Facebook:

Apple University: