Much of Japan’s agricultural heritage has given way tomodern multinational corporations. As it is with many countries, Japan findsitself relying more on agricultural imports and corporate farming leaving thetraditional family farms in need of an outlet for both their crops and theirfrustrations with changes in lifestyle. This, compounded with the agingpopulation of farmers and that their offspring have little or no interest infarming, has created a need to promote development and agriculturalsustainability in rural areas.
Due to the growing awareness of this situation in Japan thedevelopment of a number of fruit parks occurred. What could be called touristattractions in reality serve a broad number of purposes. The parks developedthrough a collaboration of the Japan Agricultural Cooperatives, Prefecturegovernments, local universities, agricultural product companies, commoditywholesalers/marketers, tourism companies and others in private enterprise.
The following examples can serve as role models fordevelopment of attractions in rural Hawaii that contribute to thesustainability of the rural Hawaiian life style and the unique Hawaiianagricultural heritage.
These models combine a number of services that result incontributions to the local economies as well as directly to farmers and theparticipating cooperatives. In addition to being a popular visitor attraction,the fruit parks offer educational services that include onsite extension agentsand educators, reference libraries, and meeting rooms. Activities for children,shops featuring products made from crops grown on site and farmers markets arealso integrated into the attractions. Assistance is provided in both horticultureand product development. Often growers are paired with marketing companies orproduction facilities. Match making is a frequent mode of participation inthese operations. The help that is available at these attractions is foranyone. Local participants and visitors are brought together for both specialevents and daily educational activities.
The Togokuzan Fruit Park opened in 1980 and is locatedwithin the city limits of Nagoya, Japans third largest city. In addition tobeing a popular spot for tourists and elementary school excursions, it serves anumber of functions for the agricultural community that surrounds the city.Nagoya is the center of Aichi prefecture, which is the largest fig producingarea in Japan as well as a major supplier of persimmon, peaches and other fruitcrops. As a tourist destination, it is a central location where visitors canpurchase items in the shop based not only on locally produced fruit productsbut also on those grown in the two large tropical green houses as well as onthe park grounds. There are fish ponds adjacent to the park that provide rentalpoles, small boats and picnic areas. Farmers can arrange with the park to selltheir produce in areas within the park and through the park store.
The park also features 150 varieties of fruit with more than1000 trees. Also, an onsite reference library, meeting room, wax museum offruit varieties, toys and activities for children and a multimedia presentationarea. Park staff consists of horticulturalists as well as tour guides andresearch associates. Experts are on hand to assist visitors with questionsregarding any variety of fruit grown as well as general horticulturalquestions. Visitors are free to sit in the library and copy any of theavailable reference material. Special events, lectures, tours and viewings arecommon in both the tropical green house area and outside growing areas. Farmtools, types of fertilizers, spay units and other farm related implements areon display.
The outside areas are examples of commercial fruitproduction in Japan and elsewhere in Asia. Walkways that wind through the parkoften feature “fruit” landscaping.
Each area of the park shows the structures used in theproduction of a particular type of fruit. Plums, Peaches, Persimmons, Apricot,Kiwi, Apple pears and Grapes and many variety of citrus are pruned, tied andbagged, (protective bags against pests and diseases), in daily operations.Special events revolve around flowering and harvesting. Special demonstrationsof farming techniques by staff and guest experts are frequent as are lectureson diverse but related topics.
This is a working farm with daily operations in addition tobeing a visitor attraction.
Perhaps one of the more interesting aspects of Togokuzan isthe tree shaping and pruning techniques that visitors can see. In many Asianlocations trees are kept low to facilitate harvesting and save labor time. Atthe 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 parklibrary.
Pictures of the park, store and fruit museum can be seen at:
Hamamatsu Fruit Park
The Hamamatsu Fruit Park, about a two-hour drive fromTogokuzan, covers 43 hectares and contains 5000 trees of which there are 160cultivars. The parks extensive collection of citrus cultivars especiallykumquat is well known. The domedgreenhouses are filled with tropical fruits familiar in Hawaii. There areinteractive displays with quizzes and museum displays. Mango, banana andpapayas 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 alarge working farm, it is very visitor oriented in its design.
One can wander endlessly through the orchards and greenhouses or take a small tractor built into a steam train engine design. (
Keeping with the theme, the playground includes a giantslide coming out of what must be a 3 story tall pineapple. All the gymequipment has some connection to fruit, Banana swings, Orange jungle gyms and ahost of others. There is also a summer day camp available.
The 3 restaurants on the grounds offer a wide choice butalways include something from the park. While the kids are playing, the folksare shopping in 2 areas adjacent to the playground. One, a store featuringfruit products and fresh fruit, includes tropical specialties such as cherimoyaand dragon fruit. When the parks trees are not producing the fresh fruit ispurchased commercially so that visitors can still enjoy the taste of somethingthey have just learned about on a park tour. The other area is a farmers marketfor fresh produce from the park and area farmers
Built on a hillside, the park has one of the longest coveredescalators in Japan going up and down the side of the mountain. There is amodern suspension bridge that connects different parts of the park. Signage iseverywhere: directional signs, botanic information signs, seasonal guides andmaps and historic information on the fruit and its origin.
There are numerous weekly events posted on web sights andadvertised in the area. They revolve around floral viewing and displays, fruitharvest and tasting, guest lectures and farming technique demonstrations.
Often, very large potted trees are moved to the entrancearea when they are flush with fruit or flowers offering the visitor their firsttaste of what’s to come during a day at the park.
In addition to the visitor attractions, the park also has onsite horticultural specialists to answer any question from farmers or thevisitors. Technical publications are made available as well. As a whole, theproduction area of the park typifies the best cultural practices of Japanesefarming. The trees are perfectly pruned and trained; fruit is bagged andharvested at perfection. Fertilizing and mulching and watering are monitoredconstantly. The park has educational seminars on various levels for anyone withan interest in growing fruit.
The Biwa Club in Tomiura Chiba Japan, about a 3-hour drivefrom 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, BiwaCooperative, private investors and farmers, the location serves a number ofpurposes. In this fairly remotelocation the club is a rest stop for weary travelers heading farther south tothe tip of the Chiba Peninsula. While there, they are indoctrinated into theworld of Biwa fruit. The facilities boasts a shop which features almost 2000items manufactured locally with the fruit, as well as a number of other itemsthat are made from Chiba’s wide range of agricultural products.
There is something for everyone at the shop, a wide range ofproducts 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 alibrary and reference room for farmers as well as meeting room.
During the height of loquat season, May and June) the clubalso provides space for farmers to sell direct to the public. The large areaaround the club is both parking and staging area for bus tours from Tokyo andelsewhere in Japan. Tours are either pre arranged or can be decided upon atarrival. The tours are not at the club but at farmer member locations.
Depending on the farmer’s schedule, they can choose toopen their farm for the day or not.
Independent travelers can leave their cars at the club andjoin bus tours of the farms.
The tours start and end at the club, which during the heightof the season is packed with people. More than 30 large buses can beaccommodated as well as large numbers of cars.
Once at the farms, visitors have more choices, they can joina farm tour and learn about the growing cycle of the Biwa trees or they cansimply enter one area and pick and eat the fresh fruit. There are on farmstands, which sell both packaged fruit and other items that may or may notdiffer from what is available at the Biwa Club. Some visitors will tour anumber of different farms the same day although the differences from farm tofarm are minimal and may only differ in the cultivar of loquat grown. Somefarmer’s report that since the club started these tours, their income hasalmost doubled. Previously the fruit was sold solely to the cooperative. Thecooperative has embraced the idea as it builds awareness for the fruit andteaches 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 benefiteconomically. In addition to paying for the tours, visitors buy items at thefarm and at the club both at the beginning and end of the tour. The clubs website also links to individual farm sites as well as companies offering productsthat support the sales of the fruit.
What sets this area apart from the fruit parks is that it isnot one single attraction but rather a group of chrysanthemum flower growers inthe same area. Although they often compete for the same business, they chooseto work together to create spectacular floral displays when the flowers are inseason. Located between Osaka and Hiroshima, the growers have planted theirfields in order for the flowers to be color coordinated when blooming. Theseplantings are just display and not sold. It is spectacular! Other ornate floraldisplays and “floral architecture” are available for viewing and inpurchase. Started as a way to attract wholesale flower buyers from the bigcities, the area is fast becoming a tourist attraction. During the height ofthe viewing season buses from large cities will head towards the area, which istrying to improve its infrastructure to handle the unexpected crowds.
There are now many chrysanthemum festivals in the area thatduring the season draw on the farmer’s time but also provide additionalrevenue by sending tour groups into the farming areas. Each farm has plants ondisplay separately but the attraction is the way they are planted in thefields. Visitors can purchase from any of the farms, small $5.00 plants ordisplays valued at many thousands of dollars. Although primarilychrysanthemums, some farms offer other plants and bonsai or fruit trees. Thesmall mountain roads leading to the Sanwa area are dotted with individual farmstands offering pickled vegetables and snacks as well as flowers and pottedplants.
All of the examples provide a direction for Hawaii toconsider as ways to promote sustainable livelihoods in rural areas.
The 12 Trees Project (
The 12 Trees Project is working to commercializeunder-utilized fruit and fruit products. This park will highlight our coffee and macadamia nut industries as wellas the growing diversity of other agricultural produce and products that comefrom our region. The 12 Trees Project fruit park will be a center forrevitalizing agriculture and rural development in order to maintainKona’s rich agricultural heritage.