The promise he’s been keeping to host “Hanami in February”
In spring, Fuefuki city is colored in pink with all the blooming peach blossoms, which is why the city is called “Heaven on Earth” and people from all over the country visit this city to see this beautiful scenery. It is usually said that the best time to see peach blossoms is early April, but there is an orchard with greenhouses where they welcome people to see the beautiful blossoms much earlier, in February. Yukio Kono has been keeping his promise to have “Hanami” on February 14th every year for almost 30 years. This is the interview we had with him, who protects the peach blossoms and trees.
Born in Isawa town, Fuefuki city in 1949.
He took over the orchard from his parents and started cultivation of peaches in greenhouses in 1986. He then took part in the movement of revitalization of his local community “The earliest peach blossom Hanami* in Japan”. (*Hanami means flower viewing and it is a Japanese tradition to get together with families and friends for a picnic under the trees with blossoming flowers in spring.) He LOVES peaches!
I love peaches even though its cultivation is challenging.
Fuefuki city is the largest producer of peaches and grapes in Japan and it has many orchards on the alluvial fan on the other shore of Fuefuki River, which runs down the middle of the city. In early April, all the peach blossoms in the area bloom and the scenery is so beautiful as if the whole area has pink carpets laid. This wonderful scenery has attracted a lot of people.
During summer and autumn, it is the harvest season. People all over the world are looking forward to this city’s sweet and succulent fruit.
Yukio Kono, who runs the orchard with greenhouses, which is much sought after in the media every February as the place where you can have “The earliest peach blossom Hanami in Japan”.
“My father grew apples here. But I love peaches so I started growing them”, he laughs.
“This area is abundant with fertile soil. Especially the other side of Fuefuki River (the south side) has well drained soil and roots never rot there, so it’s suitable for fruit cultivation. As opposed to, around here like Fujimi, its soil is sandy and barren. It’s also very dry so it’s not suitable for growing peaches… but I just wanted to eat peaches after all.”
It is difficult to cultivate fruit. Especially peaches need a lot of care and it requires a series of “If you don’t do this today, they will be ruined”. They cannot afford to miss any minor changes.
“That’s why it’s interesting and fun. You study and practice, then you learn. I started greenhouse cultivation with the mindset to produce good quality delicious fruit.”
It was 1986 when Mr. Kono started greenhouse cultivation. The peaches grown in greenhouses are small in size but with his studied method of cultivation, his peaches are as sweet as those grown outdoors, and there are a lot of fans of his peaches.
Touched by pioneers’ passion, he started the movement to revitalize the community with peaches.
Mr. Kono not only cultivates peaches that require a lot of care but also in the soil which is not so suitable for growing peaches, but he is doing something even more challenging. It is to host “Greenhouse Peach Hanami Party”, which is the earliest peach blossom Hanami in Japan.
“Originally it was just a private ‘’Night Hanami” amongst ourselves. But it was so beautiful and we thought we shouldn’t keep such a beautiful thing to ourselves so we started this Hanami Party. We never thought it would become something that hundreds of people would come to though.”
Visitors come from all over Japan, from Hokkaido in the north to Okinawa in the south. People even fly all the way here to enjoy this Hanami and you can’t find Hanami like this one anywhere else in Japan so easily.
“We don’t have many events in Fuefuki city in February so I wanted people to come and enjoy this city that time of the year by hosting a little early spring event.”
You can have Hanami in greenhouses even if it is raining or windy outside. Mr. Kono has been keeping his promise to host the Hanami Party starting on February 14th every year since 1999, which lasts for about 10 days each year.
“People from all over the country gather here and talk about our community at ‘Greenhouse Peach Hanami Party’ and it is a good opportunity to introduce this city’s agricultural products to the visitors. Also thanks to this Hanami Party, we meet new people every year. We can’t be happier that we have more and more people requesting to have our peaches sent to them.”
The factors that make fruit like a work of art.
Kono likes traveling and he’s traveled all over Japan over decades. After seeing many different places, he confidently says that he loves Fuefuki city.
“This area is ‘flat’, which is good. We get a lot of sun so people here are cheerful. We also have delicious fruit and it even feels like the whole city has a nice fragrance. This is a great city so I hope that more things that are No.1 in Japan will be produced from this city.”
His fragrant fruit has an exquisite balance of sweetness and sourness and it is a work of art. It is succulent and has a sweet fragrance, and it gives us energy. It is said that is why orchardists need to be cheerful in order to grow delicious fruit.
Each orchardist is committed to producing good quality fruit and they take a great care of their fruit from the beginning to the end. “I think Japan’s fruit is the best in the world”, Mr. Kono says.
“You’ll see when you eat our fruit. You’ll feel that it was worth a visit from the bottom of your heart. From fresh peaches that have been just picked to ripe ones, you can’t taste them anywhere else. You can taste and compare peaches of different states of ripeness, which is something you can’t experience unless you visit orchards.”
Mr. Kono tells us that the older he gets, the more fun he has as an “orchardist”.
“It’s fun to be an orchardist because you can do anything. On the other hand, natural disasters are scary. Things don’t always go as I wish but I have to keep going as what I do makes people happy. Even though it is a very tough time just before February every year.”
He works hard for the peach trees to bloom and then to fruit as he promises. Fuefuki city’s fruit reflects its orchardists’ hearts and passion.