Much of Japan’s agricultural heritage has given way to modern multinational corporations. As it is with many countries, Japan finds itself relying more on agricultural imports and corporate farming leaving the traditional family farms in need of an outlet for both their crops and their frustrations with changes in lifestyle. This, compounded with the aging population of farmers and that their offspring have little or no interest in farming, has created a need to promote development and agricultural sustainability in rural areas.
Due to the growing awareness of this situation in Japan the development of a number of fruit parks occurred. What could be called tourist attractions in reality serve a broad number of purposes. The parks developed through a collaboration of the Japan Agricultural Cooperatives, Prefecture governments, local universities, agricultural product companies, commodity wholesalers/marketers, tourism companies and others in private enterprise.
The following examples can serve as role models for development of attractions in rural Hawaii that contribute to the sustainability of the rural Hawaiian life style and the unique Hawaiian agricultural heritage.
These models combine a number of services that result in contributions to the local economies as well as directly to farmers and the participating cooperatives. In addition to being a popular visitor attraction, the fruit parks offer educational services that include onsite extension agents and educators, reference libraries, and meeting rooms. Activities for children, shops featuring products made from crops grown on site and farmers markets are also integrated into the attractions. Assistance is provided in both horticulture and product development. Often growers are paired with marketing companies or production facilities. Match making is a frequent mode of participation in these operations. The help that is available at these attractions is for anyone. Local participants and visitors are brought together for both special events and daily educational activities.
The Togokuzan Fruit Park opened in 1980 and is located within the city limits of Nagoya, Japans third largest city. In addition to being a popular spot for tourists and elementary school excursions, it serves a number of functions for the agricultural community that surrounds the city. Nagoya is the center of Aichi prefecture, which is the largest fig producing area in Japan as well as a major supplier of persimmon, peaches and other fruit crops. As a tourist destination, it is a central location where visitors can purchase items in the shop based not only on locally produced fruit products but also on those grown in the two large tropical green houses as well as on the park grounds. There are fish ponds adjacent to the park that provide rental poles, small boats and picnic areas. Farmers can arrange with the park to sell their produce in areas within the park and through the park store. The two large green houses that require a fee for entrance offer visitors an educational experience with fruit we often take for granted in Hawaii. The park has special events when jackfruit, mango, strawberry guava and many other tropical fruit are harvested. Parks like Togokuzan are one reason that fruit shops and department stores throughout Japan routinely carry more unusual fruit like durian, dragon fruit, passion fruit and jackfruit.
The park also features 150 varieties of fruit with more than 1000 trees. Also, an onsite reference library, meeting room, wax museum of fruit varieties, toys and activities for children and a multimedia presentation area. Park staff consists of horticulturalists as well as tour guides and research associates. Experts are on hand to assist visitors with questions regarding any variety of fruit grown as well as general horticultural questions. Visitors are free to sit in the library and copy any of the available reference material. Special events, lectures, tours and viewings are common in both the tropical green house area and outside growing areas. Farm tools, types of fertilizers, spay units and other farm related implements are on display.
The outside areas are examples of commercial fruit production in Japan and elsewhere in Asia. Walkways that wind through the park often feature “fruit” landscaping.
Each area of the park shows the structures used in the production of a particular type of fruit. Plums, Peaches, Persimmons, Apricot, Kiwi, Apple pears and Grapes and many variety of citrus are pruned, tied and bagged, (protective bags against pests and diseases), in daily operations. Special events revolve around flowering and harvesting. Special demonstrations of farming techniques by staff and guest experts are frequent as are lectures on diverse but related topics.
This is a working farm with daily operations in addition to being a visitor attraction.
Perhaps one of the more interesting aspects of Togokuzan is the tree shaping and pruning techniques that visitors can see. In many Asian locations trees are kept low to facilitate harvesting and save labor time. At the park it is apparent that sustainable practices are utilized to the utmost. Mulching, composting and recycling of organic material are practiced.
Each fruit has a number of signs that describe its history, cultural practice and usage.
Additional information on any fruit is available in the park library.
Pictures of the park, store and fruit museum can be seen at:
Hamamatsu Fruit Park
The Hamamatsu Fruit Park, about a two-hour drive from Togokuzan, covers 43 hectares and contains 5000 trees of which there are 160 cultivars. The parks extensive collection of citrus cultivars especially kumquat is well known. The domed greenhouses are filled with tropical fruits familiar in Hawaii. There are interactive displays with quizzes and museum displays. Mango, banana and papayas are grown and harvested for park festivals and sale at the park stores. What makes the Hamamatsu Park so unique is the design and architecture. Still a large working farm, it is very visitor oriented in its design.
One can wander endlessly through the orchards and green houses or take a small tractor built into a steam train engine design. (http://e-fruitpark.com/train.html )There is a very large modern and very innovative playground for children under 12.
Keeping with the theme, the playground includes a giant slide coming out of what must be a 3 story tall pineapple. All the gym equipment has some connection to fruit, Banana swings, Orange jungle gyms and a host of others. There is also a summer day camp available.
The 3 restaurants on the grounds offer a wide choice but always include something from the park. While the kids are playing, the folks are shopping in 2 areas adjacent to the playground. One, a store featuring fruit products and fresh fruit, includes tropical specialties such as cherimoya and dragon fruit. When the parks trees are not producing the fresh fruit is purchased commercially so that visitors can still enjoy the taste of something they have just learned about on a park tour. The other area is a farmers market for fresh produce from the park and area farmers
Built on a hillside, the park has one of the longest covered escalators in Japan going up and down the side of the mountain. There is a modern suspension bridge that connects different parts of the park. Signage is everywhere: directional signs, botanic information signs, seasonal guides and maps and historic information on the fruit and its origin.
There are numerous weekly events posted on web sights and advertised in the area. They revolve around floral viewing and displays, fruit harvest and tasting, guest lectures and farming technique demonstrations.
Often, very large potted trees are moved to the entrance area when they are flush with fruit or flowers offering the visitor their first taste of what’s to come during a day at the park.
In addition to the visitor attractions, the park also has on site horticultural specialists to answer any question from farmers or the visitors. Technical publications are made available as well. As a whole, the production area of the park typifies the best cultural practices of Japanese farming. The trees are perfectly pruned and trained; fruit is bagged and harvested at perfection. Fertilizing and mulching and watering are monitored constantly. The park has educational seminars on various levels for anyone with an interest in growing fruit.
The Biwa Club in Tomiura Chiba Japan, about a 3-hour drive from Tokyo, is unique in the sense that it focuses primarily on Biwa or loquat, as we know it in Hawaii. Founded by the Chiba Prefecture Government, Biwa Cooperative, private investors and farmers, the location serves a number of purposes. In this fairly remote location the club is a rest stop for weary travelers heading farther south to the tip of the Chiba Peninsula. While there, they are indoctrinated into the world of Biwa fruit. The facilities boasts a shop which features almost 2000 items manufactured locally with the fruit, as well as a number of other items that are made from Chiba’s wide range of agricultural products.
There is something for everyone at the shop, a wide range of products including foods, wines, toys, cosmetics and books, all about loquat. There are many logo items featuring cartoon type characters based on the Biwa. The restaurant inside the club features many Items that also contain the fruit. Biwa curry and Biwa ice cream are among the more popular items. There is also a library and reference room for farmers as well as meeting room.
During the height of loquat season, May and June) the club also provides space for farmers to sell direct to the public. The large area around the club is both parking and staging area for bus tours from Tokyo and elsewhere in Japan. Tours are either pre arranged or can be decided upon at arrival. The tours are not at the club but at farmer member locations.
Depending on the farmer’s schedule, they can choose to open their farm for the day or not.
Independent travelers can leave their cars at the club and join bus tours of the farms.
The tours start and end at the club, which during the height of the season is packed with people. More than 30 large buses can be accommodated as well as large numbers of cars.
Once at the farms, visitors have more choices, they can join a farm tour and learn about the growing cycle of the Biwa trees or they can simply enter one area and pick and eat the fresh fruit. There are on farm stands, which sell both packaged fruit and other items that may or may not differ from what is available at the Biwa Club. Some visitors will tour a number of different farms the same day although the differences from farm to farm are minimal and may only differ in the cultivar of loquat grown. Some farmer’s report that since the club started these tours, their income has almost doubled. Previously the fruit was sold solely to the cooperative. The cooperative has embraced the idea as it builds awareness for the fruit and teaches the public (often Tokyo city dwellers) what the farmers go through. Since the cooperative has a share in the club, as do the farmers, all benefit economically. In addition to paying for the tours, visitors buy items at the farm and at the club both at the beginning and end of the tour. The clubs web site also links to individual farm sites as well as companies offering products that support the sales of the fruit.
What sets this area apart from the fruit parks is that it is not one single attraction but rather a group of chrysanthemum flower growers in the same area. Although they often compete for the same business, they choose to work together to create spectacular floral displays when the flowers are in season. Located between Osaka and Hiroshima, the growers have planted their fields in order for the flowers to be color coordinated when blooming. These plantings are just display and not sold. It is spectacular! Other ornate floral displays and “floral architecture” are available for viewing and in purchase. Started as a way to attract wholesale flower buyers from the big cities, the area is fast becoming a tourist attraction. During the height of the viewing season buses from large cities will head towards the area, which is trying to improve its infrastructure to handle the unexpected crowds.
There are now many chrysanthemum festivals in the area that during the season draw on the farmer’s time but also provide additional revenue by sending tour groups into the farming areas. Each farm has plants on display separately but the attraction is the way they are planted in the fields. Visitors can purchase from any of the farms, small $5.00 plants or displays valued at many thousands of dollars. Although primarily chrysanthemums, some farms offer other plants and bonsai or fruit trees. The small mountain roads leading to the Sanwa area are dotted with individual farm stands offering pickled vegetables and snacks as well as flowers and potted plants.
All of the examples provide a direction for Hawaii to consider as ways to promote sustainable livelihoods in rural areas. Private enterprise, university and government agricultural professionals, cooperatives and individual farmers can work to build attractions that showcases the best Hawaii can offer in tropical agriculture. Tropical fruit, tropical flowers, aquaculture, and Kona coffee can be provide an entertaining educational experience for visitors while providing technical assistance to growers. In addition to displaying modern horticultural and production technologies, Hawaii fruit parks can educate visitors and growers on how to make jams, jellies and a host of processed products and how to package both fresh and processed items to capture the eye of the consumer. Guest or resident chefs can demonstrate how locally produced agricultural products can be turned into culinary delights.
The 12 Trees Project (http://www.hawaiifruit.net/12trees.html) just getting started in Kona is a collaborative effort between the University of Hawaii College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources, the Kona Pacific Farmers Cooperative, and the West Hawaii Culinary Arts program. This project can serve as a small prototype of a fruit park that could be developed in Hawaii modeled on the Japanese fruit parks. Its objectives are to help farmers to develop greater diversity, provide a more consistent income and will promote sustainable practices that work in concert with the natural environment.
The 12 Trees Project is working to commercialize under-utilized fruit and fruit products. This park will highlight our coffee and macadamia nut industries as well as the growing diversity of other agricultural produce and products that come from our region. The 12 Trees Project fruit park will be a center for revitalizing agriculture and rural development in order to maintain Kona’s rich agricultural heritage.