By Sandra Isaka
Fruit picking is nothing new to Japan, but it was to me. This seemingly national obsession means you can pick pears in Oita, dine on strawberries in Mie, or chow down on cherries in Yamagata. Look hard enough, and there is sure to be some kind of fruit picking experience wherever your travels take you. However, while these places often just let you roam free to eat up a certain amount of yummy fruit in a specified time (not a bad experience at all), for those wanting to learn more of what it actually takes to grow and harvest what we find in our supermarkets, there is one stop to include on your list: Tomato Land Iwaki.
The Japan farming industry has been changing, especially in the Tohoku region since the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake and Tsunami. A trend towards less or no chemicals, protecting the environment, and creating the freshest flavors means working with technology while still incorporating a human touch. Tomato Land Iwaki does this with their massive greenhouses, and they are more than willing to give a you a peek--and a taste--inside.
Tomato Land Iwaki is a fully operating tomato farm. Anyone at anytime during business hours can stop by the onsite store to purchase fresh tomatoes, tomato juice, tomato jam, and several other tomato food products. What you should do is make an advanced reservation using the online form or phone number on the official website (Japanese only) with your group of five or more. For 1000 yen each you be given a new insight of some cutting edge farming technology, and of course be able to sample some tomatoes you pick yourself!
Walking into the greenhouse enclosure you are taken aback by how big the place is. Ceilings stretch high above your head and the ground is lined with rows and rows of tomatoes. Echoing softly in the background is Japanese folk music. Some people believe plants grow better if you sing or talk to them, but actually the reason for the music is to make the workers, most of them elderly women, happier while they roll up and down rows on their carts to collect tomatoes. The workers were all smiles and happily greeted us.The whole place is clean and rather cool for a greenhouse, which I am told is based on Dutch design. There is no dirt, but rather tomato vines sit in coconut husks which are wrapped and set in long trays.
At the end of each aisle is the name of the tomato species, and there are many to choose from. Try tasting these organic tomatoes right off the vine to your mouth; it's simply delicious. Larger tomatoes are incredibly juicy, while a brand of purple tomatoes was much sweeter than I anticipated. I am not a huge tomato fan myself, but I might be now. I couldn't help myself exploring one flavor after the next and hunting for that perfect tomato with just the right ripeness to it.
One of the cultivation specialists finished our tour outside the greenhouse in the blueberry bush enclosure. Tomatoes are the main show, but some other fruits and veggies are also grown at the farm. Our guide explained how the farm works with technology to not only make the best food product for its consumers, but also to reduce the impact on the environment. On the premises are solar panels, rain collection tanks, and machines that recycle water to reuse.
A trip to Tomato Land Iwaki is a chance to see 21st century farming in practice. Fill your brain with knowledge then your belly with fresh tomatoes with your next trip to Iwaki in Fukushima Prefecture.
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Justin Velgus (ジャスティン ベルガス) is a long-term resident and promoter in the Tohoku region. He has been a content producer for JapanTravel.com since 2012 and was the Miyagi Prefecture Regional Partner 2013-2015. Justin’s over 300 published travel and culture articles come from a background of studying in Akita, teaching English in Miyagi through the JET Program, and working for the government in Fukushima. He lives in the gyutan capital of the world, Sendai. Justin is an expert in local culture and history. He was the first foreign volunteer at Sendai City Museum and regularly advises the local volunteer guide group GOZAIN , which he is a veteran member, on guiding techniques and hidden locations in the city even locals don't know about. In his free time he enjoys delivering original walking tours, such as his Dark Sendai Tour (ghost tour) or Kokubuncho Mystery Tour (redlight district tour). Justin is also a Certified Sake Professional.