When we headed to Nakagomi Orchard, we didn’t anticipate the unique experience that was just over the tallest peaks in Japan, two hours south of Tokyo. We knew we’d be farming on an organic fruit orchard but we did not expect to help customers out at the fruit picking stand, use a weedwacker, place protective bags around apples, work with other amazing volunteers, and hike to the top of Mt. Fuji.
After Kazu met us at the Yamanashi Tourist Center when we arrived, he took us (me, Donald, Enzo, and Elise, the two other volunteers) to his house and gave each of us a ginormous fuzzy peach twice the size of the palm of my hand. “Have you ever seen a peach this big before,” he asked us as we all shook our heads no. “You’ll never find a peach this big in Europe, Asia, or the United States. Only in Japan.” After working a few days for Nakagomi Orchard, we began to see why. There’s a couple extra processes that go into growing big quality peaches. Kazu emphasizes that unlike the US and other countries around the world, Japan grows for quality over quantity.
With the peach nestled in our palms, Kazu urged us to take a bite. My teeth sunk into a pillow of pure juice surrounded by a layer of soft fuzzy skin. The fruit was truly ripe and each bite I took, more juice would spill out of my mouth. It was as if I was drinking and eating a peach at the same time; it was very delicious! Kazu explained that one of his peaches can be sold for $3,000 yen (around $30) in other countries. Observing how much peaches go for in the supermarkets here in Japan, they’re still pretty pricey and 6 peaches cost almost $16 USD in one supermarket. Luckily, we were able to eat several a day right off the tree as a treat for our work efforts.
We will never forget one of the important reasons for why the fruits grow to their full size and that’s because 98% of all fruits in Japan are trimmed so they continue to grow bigger, according to Kazu. Because Nakagomi Orchard is not growing for mass quantity, they are able to patiently wait for their fruits to grow bigger. Patience is a not only a virtue in Japan, but it’s also one of the Ten Principles found in Japanese culture. After spending two and a half weeks on the farm, we learned important cultural take aways and the clean nature of Japan. One of my favorite Japanese customs is how one starts a meal. Before eating a scrumptious home cooked meal made by Yoko-San, Kazu’s sister-in-law, we put our hands together, say “Itadakimasu,” bow our heads and then begin eating. The phrase simply means “I humbly receive” and is a polite way to cue “Let’s eat” before a meal. After you finish, it’s then polite to say “Gochisosama deshita,” in unison which means, “Thank you for the delicious food.” When other people from other countries asked if there’s a similar custom in the United States, we didn’t have a specific answer since there isn’t a universal way in our culture to begin a meal, it varies between households and families. We’ve showcased the wonderful traditional meals we’ve received by Yoko-san:
Coming here after staying in Tokyo was exactly what we needed. Instead of sky skimming futuristic buildings, there were cloud toppling mountains, volcanoes, and peaks hugging all sides of Yamanashi Prefecture (State). We spent our first day off touring the layout of the orchard community on bikes. We rode past apple arbors, grapes dripping from their vines, and even baby kiwis dangling in clusters. Once we started working, we were able to taste the fruits of our labor after munching down on peaches, plums, and sometimes various ice cream bars (the matcha green tea ice creams were the best!)
During our first week, Etienne and Kievta showed us the ropes since they had worked at the orchard a week before me, Donald, Elise, and Enzo arrived. We had a great time working at the peach picking stand, bagging apples on trees, cleaning, more cleaning and walking Taro after our work day. In all honesty, we had more fun after work and during our days off when we’d talk about our travels, eat dinner together, and share Ume Shu (plum wine), 7-11 sake (only the finest), extra dry Asahi beers, and honey tea. After Etienne and Kievta left, another volunteer, Tiphaine (pronounced Tif-fane, not T-Pain) joined our weed whacking team as we were on a mission to chop every blade of overgrown grass and annihilate every thirsty weed surrounding the rich fruit trees. We’ve been fortunate in working with a great group of people who we now call friends and that’s one of the best parts of traveling and doing a work exchange.
As always, there’s a time when you must say sayonara (good-bye in Japanese). Although it had been a fun 2 and a half weeks, we were ready to head to our final destination in Japan. When we sadly told Yoko-san it was the last time we would be eating her oishii (yummy) dinner, she kindly told us to come during lunchtime to the fruit picking stand on our day off to receive a gift. On our final day, we biked over to the stand and were given a dozen of free peaches; the nice ones without bruises packaged to be sold in stores, and some ripe plums. “Arigatou goziamasu,” we said thanking them in Japanese. We’ll never forget this wonderful experience we had working at Nakagomi Orchard and wish the family and all the great people who work for them the best of luck!
This post is dedicated to all the volunteers we worked with (Etienne, Kievta, Elise, Enzo, and Tiphaine) including the students who came to help out on the weekends. It was so great working with you all. Donald and I wish everyone the best and hope the rest of your time in Japan is amazing! We were fortunate to meet and work with other great open minded people. Don’t forget, you always have a place to stay with us wherever we end up in the world!
Etienne- Hope you and your family have fun hiking up Mt Fuji, we can’t wait to see the photos when you make it to the top!
Kievta- Glad you’re hanging out at a beach and hope you can practice your awesome Japanese speaking skills at the camp! We will let you know about the Philippines, we definitely want to make it happen 🙂
Elise- Good luck in your next semester in school and hope the rest of your summer is more relaxing! Hope you’re given more matcha ice cream during your last shifts on the farm.
Enzo- Congrats on traveling by plane for the first time to visit Japan! Best of luck to you as well and hope the cats won’t continue to bother you. Check out Samurai Champloo too!
Tiphaine- Thank you so much for the travel tips and willingness to connect us with others in South Korea! Hope you “kick ass” in your contest and win!! Fingers crossed we’ll be able to travel to Seoul and see you before you leave. Kanpai!
And we can’t forget our favorite pets, Taro and 音楽 (Ongaku):