Location: Naoshima and Teshima, Kagawa, Shikoku
Duration: 3 days
Dates: November 24-27, 2012
Impressions of the Trip:
Kagawa, the smallest of Japan’s 47 prefectures, is also home to some of the country’s most amazing beauty and the worlds’s coolest modern art. Consisting in part of the islands of the Seto Inland Sea, we spent a few days bopping around on ferries, biking the islands of Naoshima and Teshima.
In the late 1980s, the Benesse Corporation, an education services firm based in nearby Okayama, decided to take up the troubled islands of the Seto Inland Sea as a revitalization project. At the time, the islands were home to refineries, industrial waste sites, and a facility for patients suffering from Hansen’s disease. The Mayor of Naoshima teamed up with Benesse to revitalize Naoshima by rebranding it “Japan’s Art Island”. In addition to placing modern art works by world renowned artists in old, traditional houses, several modern art museums dot the islands of the Inland Sea.
It was the art and natural beauty that initially brought us to Teshima, but oddly enough, it was the lemons that left an equally strong impression. On a rainy morning, we were making our way through Teshima’s terraced rice fields, when a beat up van pulled up alongside us. The driver, whom we later came to know as Okamoto-San, insisted on giving us a lift to a tiny museum on a beach across the island. During the short car ride, Okamoto-san told us he was a lemon farmer, the only organic lemon farmer on Teshima. Given Teshima’s history as an industrial waste site, it was surprising to think about a successful farm thriving there. Okamoto-san charmed us with his toothy smile and friendly manner, but he was so humble that we did not really get the full story until we returned to Tokyo. Before thanking Okamoto-san and bidding him adieu at our destination, we exchanged name cards with him and he recommended that we search for Teshima lemons on the internet.
Upon returning to Tokyo, we did just that, and found this great article about Okamoto-san. As it happens, he isn’t just a lemon farmer, he single-handedly planted about 10,000 lemon groves and put Teshima lemons on the Japanese citrus map. About the time that we were learning about Okamoto-san’s accomplishments online, a bunch of lemons arrived in the mail from Teshima. Okamoto-san had mailed some to us in Tokyo, filling not only our offices, but also the homes of many neighbors and colleagues, with the scent of his amazing lemons. We wished we had met him earlier in our trip and had another occasion to learn more about him and his story.
Sometimes the best stories and insights into culture, and agriculture, are completely unexpected. Farming so permeates the story of rural Japan that it isn’t altogether strange that we managed to converse with a farmer while exploring the islands of the Seto Inland Sea. What was an extra-happy coincidence, though, is that this farmer was Okamoto-san, an inspiring person who believed enough in the idea of growing organic lemons on Teshima that he eventually succeeded beyond even his own expectations. To find a rural innovator and creative businessperson like Okamoto-san on a tiny island in the middle of the Sea was 寝耳に水, a great surprise.