“We’re really just all about Fukuharuka strawberries here,” says Ryota Tobisawa, who runs a farm with his father in Kagamiishi, located in the Central Region of Fukushima Prefecture. Ryota came back home to get into the farming business after graduating from the Tokyo University of Agriculture. He’s six years in now, and just 28 years old. He originally chose TUA with the intention of carrying on the family business, so he didn’t hesitate to continue moving forward with his plan even when the Great East Japan Earthquake struck.
Fukuharuka is an original variety that was developed by Fukushima Prefecture and officially registered in 2006. Ryota describes them as having “a hint of peachy flavor with a refreshing aroma and clean sweetness,” explaining that their charm lies in their exceptionally clean taste.
There’s a famous fruit café in Tokyo that reportedly spends a few months to over a year selecting fruit for its stores. Tobisawa likes to tell the story where representatives from this café paid an unexpected visit to his farm to taste his Fukuharuka strawberries, and decided on the spot to use them in their parfaits. The young grower happened to be there at that moment. “I was so happy,” he recalls, “but a little freaked out at the same time.” As it gets to be time for the harvest, he starts selecting only the finest fruit for the café each morning.
The Fukuharuka strawberries that Tobisawa grows are also used in fine hotels in the prefecture. He ships them out through the JA co-op or sells them directly from his home farm. But whether he’s delivering strawberries to the famous Tokyo café or elsewhere, he always carefully selects the best berries just before they go out.
“There are people who come here all the way from Tokyo to buy directly from my farm because they’ve had our strawberries in a parfait,” he tells us. “I can’t slack off even for a second.”
A look inside Tobisawa’s greenhouse reveals an impressive scene of vast plots of strawberries. This is the strawberry soil cultivation he’s so passionate about. He puts everything he’s got into creating mineral-rich earth. Having the strawberries soak up those nutrients, he says, “changes the flavor profile completely”.
Unfortunately, Fukuharuka strawberries are susceptible to disease, making them a challenge to grow. Ryota’s father failed time and again when he first started growing them. “But he didn’t give up,” Ryota says. “His love for Fukushima runs deep, so he wanted his home prefecture’s original variety to succeed no matter what.”
Eventually, after a lot of thought and a lot of mistakes, they introduced UV lamps to boost the strawberries’ immune systems, which successfully kept them from getting sick.
“Fukushima Prefecture starts turning out cherries in June, followed by peaches, Asian pears, grapes, and apples in summer and fall. By the time winter approaches we get persimmons and finally strawberries. We can keep harvesting the strawberries through the end of May, so we’re able to get an abundant fruit harvest that’s truly year-round,” Ryota explains. “That’s why they call this a ‘fruit paradise’. I only deliver products worthy of that reputation. That’s what ‘Fukushima Pride’ means to me.”