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In Japan, the landscape of the countryside is carved by rice terraces, rice being the main ingredient in Japanese cuisine. However, Japan does not only grow rice! In Ehime Prefecture, terracing is also used to produce mandarins. In Seiyo, you can harvest mikans, Japanese mandarins, directly from the producer while admiring a magnificent view of the Uwakai Sea.
Mikans: Japanese mandarins
Mikan is a variety of mandarin that was introduced in Japan 400 years ago. It is renowned for its perfect balance of acidity and sweetness, as well as for the absence of glitches which facilitates the tasting! Ehime Prefecture is, along with Wakayama Prefecture, the largest Japanese producer of mikan (about 250,000 tons per year). There are more than 40 varieties produced.
The citrus flowers starts blooming in May and begin to grow fruit in the summer, reaching an ideal size for the harvest in November. In spring, the slightly acidic and sweet aroma of citrus flowers perfumes the air. In autumn, we can see bags filled with mikan on the roadside, available in exchange for 100 yen to deposit in a small box. You will be spoiled for choice with the variety of ways to taste mikan, from fruit juices, jams and pastries to ice cream and more!
A Culture of Mikans on the Terrace of Karihama
The magnificent landscape between the sea and the mountains in Shikoku Seiyo Geopark, combine the ideal conditions for mikan cultivation; a mild climate, sunshine and sea breezes. At the edge of the Uwakai Sea (which separates the islands of Shikoku and Kyushu), the sides of the hills are smothered in terraced mandarin plants.
Picking Mikan with Producers
In the village of Karihama Akehamacho in Seiyo, you can pick mandarins directly from the orchards. You can find the farmers on the farm where you can gather equipment such as secateurs, gloves and baskets. To access the mikan fields, we boarded the back of a van on the plateau and enjoyed the view. Before starting the harvest, the producer lead us to the culmination of the winding narrow road to admire the panorama; the orange-dappled green hills that plunge into the Uwakai Sea.
The terraced crops are grown at a steep altitude to favor the good sunshine of the citrus. In order to facilitate the handling of the heavy boxes filled with mikan, the farmers have set up a network of rails that guide the motorized trucks to transport the crates. Normally, these trolleys are not intended for passenger transport, but our host wanted to spice up our visit by inviting us to experience it! However, the first attempt failed, as the cart could not support the weight of the 5 passengers and stopped mid-climb. We had to split into two groups to get to the top. This atypical experience is not recommended for those who have vertigo (especially during the descent)!
Surrendered by our emotions, we were able to start the harvest. The farmer told us where we could pick the mikans. There is only one rule to follow: cut the stem of the tangerine. Once the baskets were filled, we returned to the farm where our hosts kindly offered us coffee.
Renting a car is essential to freely exploring the Seiyo National Geopark because many sites are not accessible by public transport. From Unomachi Station, it is approximately a 30-minute drive to reach the terraced orchards of Karihama. Departing from Matsuyama, it takes 1.5 hours.
To reserve a mikan harvest session in Karihama, it is necessary to contact (in English or in Japanese) Katayama Natsuko by mail at the following e-mail address: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Original article by fabienne