Fig Growing andMarketing in Japan


Figs are among the oldest cultivated fruit having beentraced to 5000 BC.

Pliny the Elder, a historian and scientist who died in theVesuvius eruption of 79 A.D. mentioned 29 types of figs in his early writings.Fig plantings were documented in Mexico in the mid 1500s and at the same timereported to be in China. In 1669 figs were tried in Virginia and in 1769 wereplanted in San Diego. It was not until 1900 when a pollinating wasp wasintroduced that it became a commercial crop.


There are early records in Japan of figs (ichijiku inJapanese). They first entered the country through Nagasaki in 1630. Others cameto Japan from Korea. Industry did not develop until 1908 when a young KohjiroMasui left Hiroshima for California and returned with a fig cultivar now calledthe Masui-Dauphine, (Sometimes spelled in English as Dolphin). It is unclearhow this evolved but 90% of the figs grown in Japan are Masui-Dauphine. Thereis some speculation that it evolved from early California Smyrna figs. 98% ofthose sold commercially are Masui-Dauphine. Others grown include Rodos, Bahane,Wase Nihon Shu, King, Noride, White Genoa, Violette-Dauphine, Negro, Largo,Selesto and Brown turkey. Most of these are for home use or used for graftingtests at various agriculture experiment stations.


In the early 1960’s a typhoon destroyed most of thefigs in central Japan. Aichi-ken, the largest producing area wasdevastated.  At the time the treeswere kept much the same way they were in order producing areas and allowed togrow to 2 or 3 meters or more.

Producing branches were kept apart but the trees got to belarger and suffered the typhoons wrath. At that time researchers developed thecurrent system for tree management and growth that has proven to save time inharvesting and make it much easier for growers and the coop to figure eachyears crop. There are some small differences in how the fig trees are shaped orthe new growth is maintained in the different producing areas of Japan.


Tree Shaping and Care

Young trees are allowed to grow to about 2 meters in heightbefore being slowly lowered over a period of ten days to reduce stress andbreakage. They are fastened to supports about 40 cm above ground. The onevertical becomes a horizontal. In same cases two verticals will be encouragedand tied in opposite directions. Older trees can be found with 4 mainhorizontal arms in an X pattern. All the arms are tied to supports. Over a fewyears when the desired length is reached, 2.5 to 5 meters, the tips areroutinely cut.

From these long horizontal limbs, new shoots for the yearsgrowth  and production sprout.These are cut to keep the new uprights 50 cm apart. In some locations 30cm or40cm are common but new verticals at 50cm have shown to produce more consistentproduction and keep leaves from touching. The spread of virus is a seriousconcern. Each year the new vertical will produce 18 to 20 fruit before theseason ends. 


The verticals are cut each year leaving about  7cm or 8cm of old growth, or 2 or 3nodes.  The following seasons newgrowth appears on the ends of the cut nodes. When new shoots appear, only themost outer one is left for the production. This is usually the strongest.  During the growing season, theverticals will reach a height of more than one meter and produce 18 to 20 figs.These verticals are always supported either by framework or by plasticstrapping that hangs from an overhead frame.

Occasional side shoots are cut off. The average treeproduces 220 figs in a 2 x 9 foot space.



Examples can be seen at the following links.


The figs are generally harvested in a 100-day period fromMay to July.

Trees are mulched regularly to prevent excessive root growthas it is believed that the root

Growth will detract from the fruit growth.  Various fertilizer formulas are usedduring the growing cycles from year to year. 10-8-10 is the most common formulaand produced especially for figs. Trees over 25 years old often are given14-10-7. Fertilizing is done 3 or 4 times a year. Trace elements are givenevery 4 years. In some cases, farmers put a few drops of olive oil on the baseof the fig. The practice came from Greece where it is said to help preventsplitting and cause a more even ripening time. Hormone spray is also used tohelp with even ripening time on larger farms.




90% all fresh figs are marketed through JA, the JapaneseAgricultural Cooperative and sold fresh. These are all Masui-Dauphine. Theremainder includes farms that contract their crop to specific cake companies orcommercial processors for jam or wine. There are some You-pick farms that areoften run by the JA as well as farmers markets that usually sell figs otherthan Masui-Dauphine.  Fig paste isalso sold. Japan also imports figs from Iran, Turkey and Greece. There are over18 thousand metric tons sold a year in Japan. Aichi ken produces 22.8% of thatwhich was valued in 2003 at US $18,719,580. Chiba ken produces

400 metric tons. Wakayama-ken, Fukuoka-ken are also largeproducing areas.


The JA provides packaging to the farmers for different sizesbut almost all packages are based on 500 grams, about 20 ounces.

Figs are sized and sold differently in different areas.

S size (50 to 60 grams) (Chiba)

M size (60 to 80 grams) (Chiba)

L size = 6 figs weigh 500 grams (Aichi)

L size = Chiba 80 to 120 grams (Chiba)

LL size = 5 figs weigh 500 grams (Aichi)

LL size =120 to 150 grams (Chiba)

LLL size 150 gram +(Chiba)

A grade – good color but some damage or splitting.(Aichi)

B grade – off color. (Aichi)


The average brix is 13 to 17 although standards vary indifferent prefectures.


A 500-gram box of LL size figs usually retails for 450 yen,$4.22. Greenhouse grown fruit is marketed separately at double the cost.




Related links and References





The 12 Trees project will use this system for fig produce inKona.

Ken Love

March 2004