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Hand pick your own fresh oranges in Yambaru

By: Kenny Ehman

Date Posted: 1999-01-08

Heading past Nago in northern Okinawa lies the Motobu Peninsula. It is part of the region referred to as "Yambaru" in the Okinawan language. It is a place where nature is abundant, providing an important habitat for many of Okinawa's rare species of plants and animals. The people of Yambaru are mostly farmers and fisherman, carrying on the traditional way of Okinawan life. Time stands still, and days are only measured by the rise and fall of the sun. Lush and fertile valleys give rise to mountains, which are dotted with colorful fields of pineapple, loquat, and oranges. The fruits of "Yambaru" are well known throughout Japan for their fine quality, and can be found at both local and mainland markets. January marks the beginning of the harvest for the variety of orange called "tankan", which can only be grown in very warm climates. At the farms located in the small town of Izumi, you can actually experience picking and tasting these delicious oranges.

For about twenty five years the "Izumi Orange Producer's Union" has been letting visitors enter their orange tree groves for a small fee. A cost of 250 provides you with a guide, who leads you to one of the union's farms. Once you have arrived, you are allowed to pick and eat as many oranges as your belly can hold. You can also take home your own hand-picked oranges for 300 per kilogram. It is a fruit lover's paradise!

The "tankan" was brought to Okinawa from Taiwan about 30 years ago. Since that time, it has been successfully grown as a commodity mostly in the northern part of the island. It has a tough orange colored skin, which is a little difficult to peel. The fruit inside however, is juicy and sweet. The "tankan" can get very big in some cases, but the smaller oranges are more delicious. The trees bloom every April, giving way to small fruits, which appear in May and are ready for harvest the following year.

Entering the orange tree grove is an experience in itself. The trees grow along gently sloped hills. The bright orange color of the fruit is striking against a backdrop of green mountains and blue sky. Everywhere your eyes wonder, they are filled with the vision of ripe oranges. It is impossible to even try to be selective - each tree holds a bountiful supply of perfectly sized and colored fruit. At first, your hands wonder from branch to branch, plucking off every orange that catches your attention, but the best way to enjoy the experience is to take your time, and breathe in the fresh mountain air of "Yambaru" as you go from tree to tree.

Tomohara Yohena, President of the Izumi Orange Producer's Union, explained that they sometimes receive up to a thousand people on weekends. "We get many tour buses, and we also sometimes have groups of foreigners come," he said. His farmer's union provides the service everyday from 10 am until 4 pm. There is no minimum number of people required to participate in the "orange-picking" tour, but reservations are suggested for large groups. English is not spoken, so it is a good idea to bring a dictionary or a Japanese friend. The orange picking tours will last until the end of February.

To take part in the Izumi Orange Producer's tour, head north from Kadena towards Nago. After passing through Nago City, stay to the right at the traffic light and follow Route 58. Turn left on to Route 116 and head past Meio University. The road will wind through the mountains, taking you through the center of the peninsula. From the University it will take approximately 10 to 15 minutes to reach Izumi. Just before the Jomo gas station, on your right, will be a sign written in Japanese for the "Izumi Mikan Seisan Kumiai". A road sign above will read in English "Okinawa Memorial Park and Nakijin". This is where you will park and be lead to the fields by a guide. For more information, please call 0908-47-3466 (Japanese only).

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