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Visiting Marusei Orchard

Visiting Marusei Orchard

Satou Yukie, a staff member from Fukushima City’s Marusei Orchard is passionate about what she does, and it shows. Pulling up in her bright pink mini truck, wearing her bright pink staff shirt she made quite the entrance. We were ushered in to sit in her office to talk a bit about the orchard before we went to take photos and videos.

The office space only had a few chairs so we sat scattered across the room. We might’ve moved the chairs closer, but one staff member was dozing off in a chair and we couldn’t disturb them. Said staff member sleeps throughout most of the work day but management lets it slide because they’re so cute. This is Umemiyatamasaburou, or Tama-chan for short, the name comes from the story of a wandering samurai of the same name. This little cat wandered up to the orchard one day a few years ago and has stuck around ever since, so now they are treated just like any other member of the staff. In the afternoons she likes to wander the orchards, and has been known to sneak onto tour busses… So keep an eye out for her mischief!

Satou-san showed us a map which revealed the size of the orchard to be a total of 10 hectares! The largest in Fukushima. 5 hectares are dedicated solely to peach production, in case you didn’t know, Fukushima peaches are quite famous in Japan for being incredibly delicious. The U.S. Olympic soft ball coach, Ken Erikson, couldn’t get enough of these during the Tokyo 2020 Olympics and that not only made national news but caused peaches to sell out in record time due to a record number of orders being made.

“Fruit is meant to be enjoyed with your eye, and then your taste buds!” She said with a smile. So, she led us off to the orchards to enjoy some peaches with our eyes and taste buds! The peaches are beautiful bright reds and pinks, looking like beautiful decorations. She told us the peaches that get ripe and delicious sooner are those close to the trunk, next thing we know she is on a ladder and handing us a few peaches. One peach had a tiny bite mark from a bird. Satou-san said that that one would be the sweetest, the birds know these things!

After washing, peeling, and cutting off the area where the tiny bite had been taken, we got our first taste. It was incredibly soft and sweet. The birds really do know what’s up!

The other peaches had no tiny bite marks, but they were just as delicious! They were a bit firmer and the taste was again, incredible. When you visit Marusei orchard you can eat as many fruits as you like in the set time, I managed to eat two! I definitely could’ve eaten more, but I was saving space for something special...

On site there is a little café called Mori no Garden where you can try incredible parfaits made with fresh, seasonal fruit. The peach parfait was absolutely incredible, and I now have unrealistic expectations for fruit eating. It will be hard to beat the level of amazing that is Marusei Orchard’s fruits.

 

Walking through the orchards, it’s fun to take a look at the fruit trees that are out of season, it’s so cute to see the tiny baby fruits that will soon grow into something delicious! The area of the orchard is designed to hard something to see no matter the season with a variety of fruits and flowers that make a visit here truly exceptional. After eating your fill of the delicious fruits, you can stroll around the grounds and relax.

At the front desk were you rented your buckets and knives for fruit picking, you also need to return them. You can buy any fruits that picked but couldn’t eat, and you can also buy some already picked fruits. There are some really funny warning signs to remind you to keep your hands to yourself, but it goes without saying don’t touch or squeeze the fruits!

The orchard has such a fun atmosphere where you can tell how much the staff really enjoy working there, staff members have even DIYed little fruit parfait models, and they also collect the beetles they find in the orchard and save them for children to adopt as pets. Much kinder than getting rid of bugs with pesticides that’s for sure.

Click here for more information about fruit picking in Fukushima!

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    Experience Rice Planting in Fukushima, Japan!

    A land of mirrors... Driving around Fukushima in the springtime, you might think you’ve wandered into a world of mirrors. Vast rice paddies flooded with water reflect the mountains, sky, and any cars that travel by creating a beautiful scenery. Due to the hills and valleys, its common to see tiered rice paddies, something I never experienced in America!    What is rice farming REALLY like in Fukushima? Curious about the state of rice farming in Fukushima, I decided to visit a small rice farm run by Masakazu Suda in Iino-machi in Fukushima city to learn a bit more! Upon arrival Mr. Suda, Suda-san, took us into his conference room to talk a bit about his farm. He showed us several bags of rice that his farm had produced the previous year and told us a bit about his rice paddies.    Japanese style vs. American style Most of his rice paddies grow rice the ‘Japanese way’ by first growing the rice to a certain size, then removing and replanting that rice into neat, symmetric rows. This is a practice that takes some extra time and effort, but it allows rice farmers to produce large quantities of rice in smaller rice paddies. Apparently, rice farms in larger countries, like America, that have more space don’t bother with the removing and replanting step, but with this style the quantity of rice produced in only 60% of the quantity produced the Japanese way, but it takes a lot less time and effort for farmers.   I found it really interesting that despite the typically lower yield of American-style rice planting, Suda-san had one of his paddies set aside to experiment with American-style rice planting! He said his neighbors thought he was crazy, but he respects the easy-going style of America and wanted to give it a try.  Safety first! It felt really nice to meet a rice farmer who was so passionate and interested in trying various styles of farming. Suda-san is a really dedicated farmer who strives to produce safe and high quality rice! Following the nuclear disaster, he spent years taking care of the soil and farm, and it was several years before he could continue rice farming, but he never gave up!   Suda-san was one of the first rice farmers in Fukushima to return their fields to safety levels that qualified his farm to earn a FGAP safety certification. The FGAP is a strict certification that is awarded to farms in Fukushima that meet their high standards for safety and Good Agricultural Practices! If you would like to read more about this check out their website (available in English): https://gap-fukushima.jp/en/  Planting rice the old-fashioned way! After our chat, Suda-san handed me and my boss each a pair of crocs and said it was time to plant some rice! Most of his farm is planted using a special tractor-type of machine, but he left some space for us to plant rice the old-fashioned way. Showing us how to take little rice plants and replant them into the flooded, rice paddy soil in a way that it won’t sink too deep or float away. Slipping, barefoot, into the water and soft mud of the rice paddies was a shock at first. Then, it was a comfort. The soft soil was well taken care of and monitored, no sharp stones or surprises, very high quality soil. The music of the frogs filled the air even at mid-day, Suda-san said that when the sun sets their chorus will be even more impressive. Setting into the rhythmic pattern of replanting the small rice plants was therapeutic. The most difficult part was achieving straight lines and adequate spacing, but we tried our best for nearly an hour! The lines and spacing was far from even or straight, but Suda-san encouraged us anyways.  More than rice!  Rice may be most commonly eaten during meals, but rice can also be used to create many other things, my favorites being sake and mochi (a chewy dessert rice cake) sweets.   Suda-san grows a variety of rice types, including mochi rice! After a hard day of rice planting we relaxed a bit and enjoyed some locally made mochi sweets at Suda-san’s farm. It was so good! Hearing Suda-san describe the various types of rice that he grows had me really excited for harvest season, it would be so interesting to try the different varieties that he produces here. Aliens? Yeah that's right.   After bidding farewell to Suda-san, we headed up the hill in town to have lunch at the UFO restaurant. The mountain here is thought by locals to be shaped like a UFO landing pad, and many locals have their fair share of stories about UFO sightings and even encounters with visitors from the stars. There is even a UFO museum where visitors can take a look at photographs, stories, and records of the town’s history with UFOs. The townspeople here were very kind and welcoming to all kinds of people, even aliens! So, it’s definitely a unique place that I would recommend visiting. Next time we visit Suda-san we will ask him if he has seen any UFOs visit his rice paddies!  Interested in a rice planting experience? There are several options for farm stays in Fukushima, you may get to try out rice planting if you visit in the spring! Read more here or contact us about farm stays and experiences in Fukushima.    Visiting Iino-machi? You can catch a UFO, I mean... bus, outside of Fukushima station and it’s about a 40-minute ride to Iino-machi!     

    Experience Rice Planting in Fukushima, Japan!
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    Cycling in Kitakata City

    1. Renting a Bicycle in Kitakata City Kitakata is a small city full of hidden gems and local secrets! Wandering the streets of the city you will discover traces of the city’s history as a Japanese warehouse or “Kura” town. You will see many unique and distinctive buildings around town. These unique gems are dotted around a large area that is difficult to fully experience in a day on foot or by car, so I highly recommend renting a bike to get the most out of your trip! Option 1: Garden Hotel Kitakata This is a hotel that offers bicycle rentals to guests for free and non-guests for a small fee, the hotel is a short walk from Kitakata Station. A typical bike rental will cost 1000 yen, while an electric assist bike will run you 1500 yen. There are 3 electric assist bikes and 5 regular bikes. During the spring season, bicycle reservations are not accepted in order to give hotel guests priority, however, the bikes are first come first serve, so arriving early in the morning will give you a better chance of securing a bicycle. Staying the night here is another great way to help you secure your chances of renting a bike.If you are arriving by car, the hotel has a free parking lot for guests, so, if there is space available, bicycle renters can request permission to park here.     Option 2: Akutagawa This is a small local business/gift shop that also rents out bicycles. Located immediately in front of Kitakata Station, this a very convenient place to rent. There are only “mamachari” style bicycles (no electric assist bicycles) and the number of bikes is roughly seven, however the cost of daily rental is only 500 yen making it a great deal. Reservations are accepted over the phone in any bicycle friendly season, however staff only speak Japanese so it may be a good idea to ask for help from a Japanese speaker when making a reservation.     2. Cycling the Nicchu Line Weeping Cherry Blossoms path The Nicchu Line is a gorgeous 3km long stretch of path that is lined with weeping cherry blossoms. Roundtrip, the journey can be as long as 6km! So, most people only manage to see half of the cherry blossoms before they turn around, or exhaust themselves from walking. However, if you are cycling you will be able to maintain your energy so can enjoy a full day in Kitakata and see all that the city has to offer!! Cycling through the trees, you will need to watch out for low hanging branches and also pedestrians. The middle kilometer or the trail tends to be really crowded with people taking photos, Fortunately, there are parallel streets so that if you want to go fast you can and enjoy the cherry blossoms while you zoom by the crowds to stop at your favorite trees. The first and third kilometers are much less crowded so you should be able to cycle between the trees without worrying about a crowd. Click here for more information about the Nicchu Line Weeping Cherry Blossoms. ( https://fukushima.travel/destination/nicchu-line-weeping-cherry-blossom/51 )     3. Grab a snack from a street vendor As you zoom along the trail you are sure to notice various street vendors. Food trucks, local famers’ stalls, festival style food, and more! At one point of the trail I even spotted an older couple who had a long extension cord coming from their garage so that they could sell cold drinks from their fridge to people on the street. We love to see the hustle! But seriously, I hope that you will check out some of these little street vendors and chat with the local people. I stopped at an asparagus farmers stall and bought some of her locally grow asparagus to take home and cook. They were SO delicious. Then I stopped at another stall to buy some sakura flavored “Karintou” snacks. Also, delicious! Finally, my coworker and I spotted a place with mini daifuku (rice cakes) and tea, so we stopped to sit and drink some tea have a sweet snack and people watch in front of the cherry blossoms. Although a quick snack will help you find the energy to cycle up and back the entire path, make sure you take the time to enjoy a proper lunch!     4. Kitakata Ramen for Lunch We chose to try the local specialty, Kitakata Ramen! One of the top three ramen varieties of Japan, you can hardly say you’ve been to Kitakata City if you haven’t tried a delicious bowl of Kitakata Ramen! We went to Bannai Shokudo and had zero regrets! The ramen here is absolutely delicious, however sometimes there can be long lines. So I would also recommend Shokudo Hasegawa (https://fukushima.travel/destination/shokudo-hasegawa/286 ), or discover your own hole in the wall ramen restaurant. Although this is a relatively small city, there are over 100 ramen shops, this is a town that takes ramen seriously. If you choose to stay the night, I recommend trying the local culture of “Asa-Ra” which involves eating ramen for breakfast!     5. Makie Painting at the Kinomoto Lacquerware Store After filling up on a big bowl of ramen, I recommend relaxing with a calming indoor activity such as trying your hand at a makie painting experience at the Kinomoto Lacquerware Store. The Kinomoto Lacquerware Store is full of various pieces of lacquerware that are beautiful and long lasting. The tradition of makie painted lacquerware in Kitakata City has a rich history that goes back some 400 years! To draw attention to this local art form, the shop began offering painting experiences, so visitors can experience this beautiful and relaxing art form by painting designs and then dusting pigments onto the pieces. This is a fun activity and a great souvenir from your trip to Kitakata City. After you finish your masterpiece, I highly recommend taking a look at the “Cats School” diorama upstairs which features lots of cute animal figures (mostly cats!) that are handmade from Paulownia wood and posed doing various cute things. The figures recreate nostalgic scenes of Japanese school life in a large model of a traditional Japanese school. The details are incredible and you can spend a good bit of time taking in each scene of little cat dolls enjoying a day at school. There is even a festival scene that is very cute! Photography is prohibited, so you have to see it to believe it. The display is free to see, so I highly recommend checking it out if you are nearby.     6. Okuya Peanut Factory for desert After trying your hand at painting, you may want something sweet, conveniently located just across the street from Kinomoto is the Okuya Peanut Factory. The shop makes a variety of sweets using Aizu-grown peanuts, my favorite is the peanut soft serve icecream. The chocolate covered version was absolutely fantastic, but of course, you can also get it without the chocolate topping in either a cup or a cone. I highly recommend visiting here if you’re craving a sweet treat! Click here for more information about the Okuya Peanut Factory. (https://fukushima.travel/destination/okuya-peanut-factory/287 )     Cycling around Kitakata city was so much fun! This is a pretty jam packed adventure day, but I hope this will inspire you to take a trip to Kitakata City and try exploring this unique city by bike! Thank you for reading, please contact us through our social media accounts or website if you have any questions while planning your next trip.

    Cycling in Kitakata City
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    Persimmon Paradise in Date City!

    Here you can drive though fields of endless persimmons...  At first you might think that someone has hung thousands of lanterns, such a romantic sight might be expected in a town named Date City... but these are actually persimmons! Acres and acres of persimmon trees grow around the Date City area. On top of that nearly every home in the area has hundreds, even thousands, of persimmons hanging from their rafters or in open air pavilions. Dried persimmons are, apparently, a specialty in Date City. These fruits are turned into delicious semi-dried fruits that you’ve got to try! They are so good. The outer skin firms up like fruit leather and the insides sweeten and become gelatinous in texture. If you have ever tried a "gusher," these are like giant gushers that are naturally sweet.  The practice of hanging persimmons at home is still practiced by some Japanese people, however it can be a bit difficult and time consuming. Fortunately for everyday people (who lack both time and skill) the farmers of Date City make and sell plenty of these delicious treats!  Those who hang persimmons for commercial use use a special method that they learned from California raisin makers, this is how they maintain their brilliant color! It was cool to find a connection to my home country in such a cute rural town.

    Persimmon Paradise in Date City!
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