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Growing coffee in the quiet, green hills of Yambaru

By: Kenny Ehman

Date Posted: 1999-10-08

High in the mountains of Yambaru, in the village of Takae - one of Okinawa's most northern regions - a farm stands out from the surrounding pineapple and sugar cane fields. Early each morning Hiro Adachi walks out in to the breaking sunlight and tends to a crop that leaves most farmers on Okinawa scratching their heads. On Adachi's 1300 tsubo of land, rows of coffee plants grow in the cool morning dew as he carefully ensures each plant is doing well. Hiro Adachi is only one out of a handful of farmers that harvests coffee on Okinawa.

Born and raised in Osaka, Adachi has been growing coffee in the northern mountains of Okinawa for the past six years. His life is a simple one. There are no traffic jams and apart from the occasional home-stay student or tourist that passes by now and then, things are pretty quiet, very quiet in fact. But, it's a lifestyle Adachi enjoys.

"Being out in the fields is very relaxing. I can really enjoy myself out here," said Adachi. "I can listen to my music loud if I like and no one will bother me."

Blue Mountain in Jamaica and Tanzania's Mt. Kilamanjaro are names more commonly associated with excellent coffee, but Adachi is proof that the homegrown stuff can be just as tasty. Adachi's coffee is grown with no chemical fertilizers; it is organic, and it is smooth and rich. "My coffee has a natural sweet taste to it. It's easy to drink for people who do not drink coffee too much," he explained.

Adachi's life as a coffee grower, however, didn't start out as simple as his lifestyle has become in Yambaru . After working in Osaka in the electronics field for a number of years, some of which included a six-year stint as a race car driver, Adachi left for Saipan at the age of twenty seven. He used his skills in electronics to work on that island for three years, and at the same time became accustomed to the laid back lifestyles of the Micronesian people. He also spent three years in Guam and another few years on the islands of Yap and Palau. From there it was on to California for another two years, before moving to Hawaii in 1985, when Adachi finally traded his electrician tools for a plow.

"I had an uncle in Kona who was making coffee and I had it in my mind to eventually go there someday," explained Adachi.

Working for three years alongside his uncle in the lush mountains of Kona - another internationally well-known coffee growing region - Adachi learned much about coffee farming. "Coffee isn't too hard to grow once the plant begins producing," said Adachi. "All coffee is the same, the difference is in the place it's grown. Good places for coffee growing are where the climate is cool in the morning and hot in the afternoon."

Adachi had also been to Okinawa several times in the past, and he thought the island could offer him the lifestyle he was fond of while in Saipan mixed together with the farm work he experienced in Hawaii. With that thought in mind, he came to Okinawa, found the land he needed and leased it. He used his talents as a craftsman to build the necessary equipment for his work and his life. He tilled the land and planted his coffee, but it took five years before his hard work would yield anything. Last year his dream came true when he harvested 300 kilograms of coffee.

The small coffee shop, which Adachi built himself in front of his house, offers anyone passing through a chance to get a delicious hot cup of coffee and meet the man who made it from start to finish. Adachi's English is good, and he enjoys striking up a conversation with his customers, some of whom have become his friends. He keeps a collection of pictures of people he has met in a photo album - some have happened upon "Hiro's Coffee" by chance while driving by and others came to help with the harvest. Adachi explained that he gets many college students who come down to Okinawa from mainland Japan looking for a chance to work on a farm. In return, Adachi offers them free room and board.

Relaxation is the best way to describe "Hiro's Coffee." It is surrounded by green hills and is nestled quietly away from the rest of civilization. For just 400 you get a hot pot of coffee, good for two or three cups, while the amiable Adachi will usually throw in a few cookies, not to mention the friendly smile they are served with.

"Hiro's Coffee" is located on the east coast of Okinawa, along the side of Highway 70 just north of the Fukuchi Dam in Higashi-son. Look for the sign.

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