Life in the fruit production area and life with his family. Fascinated by Japanese fruit farmers.
Updated: Feb 13, 2019
From Brazil to Japan.
Mr. Mike Iijima, who was born near the Amazon River, became a peach and grape farmer about seven years ago. Mr. Iijima’s farm was in the process of harvesting grapes when we had an interview with him. “It was too hot this year”, says Mr. Iijima with a chuckle.
At his farm, which is his wife’s parents’ property, he grows several different kinds of grapes and peaches. So what fascinated Mr. Iijima, who says, “Farming is fun”, about farming?
Mr. Mike Iijima was born in Brazil. He moved to Fuefuki city when he was in elementary school and completed his compulsory education here. Since he wanted to be a farmer in Brazil, he then entered horticultural high school. Although he moved back to Brazil after getting married, he came back to Japan a year and a half later. He took over his wife’s parents’ farming business and became a successor of their fruit farm. He’s also active as a member of a group called “Kudamono-bito (Fruit People)”, which consists of young fruit farmers in Ichimiya-town.
Attracted to farming.
“I’ve lived in Japan since elementary school”, says Mr. Mike Iijima.
Up to that point Mr. Iijima, who was born by the Amazon River and grew up in Minas Gerais in Brazil, went back and forth between Brazil and Japan.
“I like both Brazil and Japan. I was used to changing schools so I could make new friends easily. I used to speak Portuguese at home when I was little but I got used to speaking Japanese”, says Mr. Iijima.
He moved to Isawa when he was in the 5th grade. “I felt I was lucky to have moved here because I love peaches and grapes”, he recalls how he felt about the new environment he moved into, where he was surrounded by fruit farms.
As he grew up in the neighborhood where many families commonly had farming businesses, he started to think, “I want to be a farmer in Brazil in the future”.
As Mr. Iijima says, “I went to horticultural high school where you can study farming”, he entered horticultural high school after graduating from junior high school.
The more he learned about farming both in classrooms and practical trainings, the more attracted he was to farms. Although he started his new job after graduating from high school, his heart was always attached to farming.
“I begged to this farmer saying ‘Please let me work here’ and started helping there”, he says.
An extension of his family’s life.
Mr. Iijima tells us that he met his wife Sayuri through their mutual friend. As their relationship grew, he started helping his wife’s parents’ farm in addition to his primary work.
“My wife is better than me at many things. She also knows a lot. That’s because she’s been helping her parents’ farm since she was little. Do you want to talk to my wife as well?”
Mr. Iijima called his wife to the farm.
“I help mainly with placing ‘hats (for protecting fruit from sun and rain)’ on fruit, gibberellin treatment and packaging harvested fruit. In farming industry, experience plays a big part. Each year, the circumstances are different so things don’t always go the same way, so you have to figure out what needs to be done now in accordance with the circumstances. My husband is learning fruit cultivation of this area with my parents’ guidance at the moment. My parents were starting to feel that they needed to think about a successor for their farm as they are getting old, then my husband happily put his hand up and I’m very grateful for him to do that.”
Mr. and Mrs. Iijima tell us they have two children.
“We can’t take our kids anywhere in summer as we’re so busy with our farm that time of the year”, says Mr. Iijima apologetically. However he continues with a smile, “But they come to the farm while we are working and play with water sprinklers.”
Something you can’t find anywhere else.
“Japanese fruit is really beautiful. Brazilian grapes are completely different in both shapes and flavors. Pineapples and mangoes in Brazil are very tasty but when it comes to grapes and peaches, ones from here are way better.
What I realized after I started working in a fruit farm is that it really takes an incredible amount of hard work to grow grapes and peaches. Harvest season is from summer to autumn, but our farm is almost always on my mind all year around and I often need to come and check on things. The climate changes every year, so it’s not uncommon at all to face new situations or circumstances each year and it’s very difficult. But these days I actually feel a sense of confidence that I’m growing something beautiful.”
In the life of a farmer, he works to polish up his skills, his family walks alongside him and his farm, and their children grow up watching their parents.
What fascinated Mr. Iijima is perhaps meticulous handwork and attentiveness he sees in Japan and also the way we celebrate the beauty of something in its natural state.
“Since it’s something you eat, taken into your body, we want to grow something good for you. Since it’s something that grows in nature, we want to grow it sustainably… We’re thinking about things like that. Fruit farmers in this area are true masters.”