The Best Aoshima Mandarines in Japan: Mr. Kuniaki Oishi in Okabe, Fujieda City!

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Mrs. Reiko Oishi/大石礼子さん and Mr. Kuniaki Oishi/大石邦昭さん, Aoshima mandarines producers in Okabe, Fujieda City!

Shizuoka Prefecture, among other products such as green tea, wasabi, strawberries and a lot more, is celebrated all over Japan for its oranges!
The other day my good Australian friends, Nick and Yayoi Shannon, who live in Okabe, Fujieda City called me as they wanted me to meet a neighbor of theirs who had just been awarded the top prize by the Japan Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Minister for its Aoshima mandarines!

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The Oishi’s Farmhouse!

Interestingly enough it became a real expedition last Sunday as we were joined by another good friend, Robert Hirai, an American friend who is a photographer when not working as a navigator on ships!

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Time slip!

Mr. Kuniaki Oishi and his wife are the 7th generation of farmers living and working in the mountains of Okabe in Fujieda City, an area celebrated for its great agricultural and wild game. They also represent the 4th generation as Aoshima Mandarines growers.

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Shizuoka Governor Heita kawakatsu/川勝平太県知事 tasting Mr. Kuniaki Oishi’s Aoshima Mandarines!
The paper article mentions that they are 1,000 yen worth (10 US$!) each!

The Oishi’s being used to those foreigners living nearby readily took in their stride this invasion with great smiles and true hospitality!
Interviewing them was more a pleasurable and enriching chat than anything else.
Although he received the 2nd top accolade from Shizuoka Prefecture in 2011 and the very top national prize in 2012, Mr. Kuniaki Oshima (71) struck me with his modesty: “I can only say that I finally started to master my skills at the age of 60″! Farmers certainly could impart a lot of wisdom and humility to us city dwellers!

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The “maturing shed”!

Before visiting Mr. Oishi’s fields, we were invited to have a look inside the maturing shed!
The harvest is done in December, which meant we did not interfere too much with the grower’s work.
Mandarines are stored inside a shed to mature for two months before being marketed.
Incidentally, Aoshima mandarines are a variety born a long time ago in Shizuoka Prefecture!

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Maturing certainly requires skills and precise storing conditions.
The temperature is maintained as low as 5 degrees Celsius and a regular air circulation must be sustained throughout the whole shed where the mandarines are carefully stored in the dark.

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Moreover, the shed must be absolutely clean and dry and totally free of insects!
All the wood inside the shed is “dead”, meaning that insects will not find it amenable to their nefarious activities!
We were kindly offered to taste the mandarines out of their boxes.

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Although sweet, the balance in sweetness, acidity and “umami” was beyond words!
The Japanese, judges and growers alike, are very picky in their survey and Mr. Oishi had to satisfy no less than 12 different criteria from shape and sweetness to biting/chewing impression!
Needless to say that coming top in 6 of them, especially overall taste, helped him acquire the top reward!

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Then we all embarked in one car and a small truck for a visiting expedition of the Oishi’s fields covering one full hectare on very steep slopes over 400-meter altitude in the nearby mountains!

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On the way I noticed these electric wires to keep civets, monkeys, deer and wild boars away!

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Recently wild boars have become a real plague!
This cage trap can catch a female and at least three cubs which will be culled and have their meat distributed around!

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A very Japanese contraption consisting of one “rail” to easily carry harvest inside boxes that descend along terribly steep slopes. They have been used for quite some time now but bear in mind that people still had to walk up and down unpaved roads to reach their fields not so long ago!

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Access to the fields is done by small trucks up tortuous roads but all the work has to be done on foot!

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Although we are at an altitude of only 400 neters the landscape made the climb all the worth for it to us city dwellers!

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It’s lucky that the harvesting is done in winter as the scorching heat in summer allows work only during the first and last few hours of the day!

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For all the size of the mountains, space is limited as sun exposure is vital.
Moreover, a big difference of temperature between daytime and nighttime is the first condition for sweet fruit!

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Organic agriculture is impossible in these conditions but Kuniaki Oishi uses only the strict minimum of pesticides and fertilizers he buys from the local government agricultural offices.

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Even so it is back breaking work as the fields and trees have to be provided with mulch and protected with plastic sheets at various times of the year!
No wonder growers never get fat in this area!
And they are so fit!

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And trees have a limited life.
This twenty-year old tree with almost a ten-centimeter thick trunk will have to be cut and replaced in twenty tears time!

It certainly makes you humble to realize all the work behind those fruit we take for granted!
Mr. and Mrs Osihi, thank you so much for your hospitality, patience and great smiles!

Kuniaki Oishi
Aoshima mandarines Grower/Producer
421-1115 Fujieda City, Okabe Cho, Niufune, 192
Tel.: 054-668-0618
Mr. Oishi’s products are sold at the JA stores and other shos, as well as through a very limited private list of customers.

RECOMMENDED RELATED WEBSITES

Kraemer’s Culinary blog by Frank Kraemer in New York,Tokyo Food File by Robbie Swinnerton, Green Tea Club by Satoshi Nihonyanagi in Shizuoka!, Mind Some by Tina in Taiwan, Le Manger by Camille Oger (French), The Indian Tourist, Masala Herb by Helene Dsouza in Goa, India, Mummy I Can Cook! by Shu Han in London, Pierre.Cuisine, Francescannotwrite, My White Kitchen, Foodhoe, Chucks Eats, Things that Fizz & Stuff, Five Euro Food by Charles,Red Shallot Kitchen by Priscilla,With a Glass, Nami | Just One Cookbook, Peach Farm Studio, Clumsyfingers by Xethia, PepperBento, Hapabento, Kitchen Cow, Lunch In A Box, Susan at Arkonlite, Vegan Lunch Box; Tokyo Tom Baker, Daily Food Porn/Osaka, Only Nature Food Porn, Happy Little Bento, J-Mama’s Kitchen, Cook, Eat, Play, Repeat, Bento Lunch Blog (German), Adventures In Bento, Anna The Red’s Bento Factory, Ohayo Bento,

Must-see tasting websites:

-Sake: Tokyo Through The Drinking Glass, Tokyo Foodcast, Urban Sake, Sake World
-Wine: Palate To Pen, Warren Bobrow, Cellar Tours, Ancient Fire Wines Blog
-Beer: Good Beer & Country Boys, Another Pint, Please!, Beering In Good Mind: All about Craft Beer in kanzai by Nevitt Reagan!
-Japanese Pottery to enjoy your favourite drinks: Yellin Yakimono Gallery

Non gastronomy must-see sites by Shizuoka Residents

HIGHOCTANE/HAIOKU by Nick Itoh in Shizuoka City

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