Travel can really take you out of your comfort zone as you delve into new and different experiences – it can be completely life changing! No one can attest to this better than the Maruyama family.
The lovely Maruyamas are the owners of Yuu Yuu Farm (ゆうゆうファーム), a beautiful little fruit orchard hidden away in the deep countryside of Iwaki, on the coast of Fukushima Prefecture. You’d never guess it now, but less than 20 years ago their life was based in the concrete jungle of Tokyo, and their knowledge about fruit farming? Zero!
However, after traveling to New Zealand to visit their daughter on working holiday, their lives were completely turned upside down when they met…
And so began an incredible love affair!
As some of you will be aware, this is the flower of a unique little fruit called a Feijoa – a fruit native to Uruguay in South America, and widely produced in New Zealand (largest producer of Feijoas world-wide). I will come back to Feijoas later, but first lets get to the bottom of this love story between a flower, a fruit and a first-time farmer.
We traveled down to Iwaki to meet the Maruyamas and find out more about their story.
Meet the Maruyama Family!
From City to ‘Yamagurashi’
Mr. Yuzo Maruyama and his son Yutaka are both qualified and successful landscape gardeners. As they worked away for years at their businesses in the metropolis of Tokyo and Yokohama, neither envisaged ever running a fruit-farm in the deep countryside of Fukushima – until that fateful day in NZ! As a professional green-thumb, Mr. Maruyama was first attracted to the unique aesthetic charm of the red and white Feijoa flower, but it wasn’t until after tasting its sweet and aromatic fruit that something just clicked! It was love at first bite.
Returning to Japan, Mr. Maruyama was shocked to discover that Feijoas had actually been introduced to his home-country before; some 40-odd years ago in southern Kyushu and Shikoku, alongside the ever-popular Kiwi fruit. However, due to a lack of experience and know-how of growing and eating the fruit, the charm of the Feijoa remained lost on Japanese consumers.
Maybe it was the boost of polyphenols, maybe it was his positive outlook and entrepreneurial spirit, but Mr. Maruyama was inspired to set things straight and show the rest of Japan the true potential of this underappreciated fruit!
Over the next few years the family began experimental Feijoa farming at various locations all over Japan – from way down south in Nagasaki, to Chiba, to the mandarin capital of Wakayama. It was a long process of trial and error which, up against the force of typhoons and limited man-power, proved to be, alas, unfruitful. The Maruyama’s had all but given up on their quest when they came across an article in a magazine about an old Japanese Nashi-pear orchard in the mountains of Iwaki. A hidden location surrounded by green mountains, something about it stirred the same gut-instinct that had hit Mr. Maruyama like a ton of bricks in New Zealand. This time it was all or nothing!
Retiring from the landscape gardening business early and picking up their entire life in Tokyo, the Maruyamas threw all chips on the table and moved to Iwaki to become full-time Feijoa farmers! From the realm of the salaryman to the epitome of ‘yamagurashi’ (山暮らし = mountain life), this was a huge decision and a challenge that most would balk at. Together with his son, Mr. Maruyama traveled back to New Zealand, arriving unannounced and with little English at the doorstep of various Feijoa plantations (apparently nearly being thrown out for trespassing a few times!) in the hope of picking up the right tricks of the trade to turn their dream into a reality.
And so Yuu Yuu farm was born! Now a bustling business of over 300 trees and 15 different species of Feijoa (as well as figs, blueberries and other fruits), the Maruyamas have more than perfected Feijoa farming – they have added their own unique spin on the fruit and how to enjoy it. So here it is…
The Yuu Yuu Farm Guide to the Feijoa!
Feijoa: the Happy Fruit!
Feijoa’s are a fruit native to South America (Uruguay). The development of Feijoa plantations has been most wide-spread in New Zealand, currently responsible for the majority of the world’s Feijoa production. To look at, they resemble a large green egg or smooth avocado and are usually about the same size as a kiwi fruit (if not a little bigger). They are rich in vegetable fibers and polyphenol – four times as much as red wine! – and have both antibacterial and anti-aging properties! Most importantly, they are super delicious! Their aromatic flavour is a difficult one to describe…also known as ‘Pinapple Guava’, some describe the taste as a combination of these two fruits. I personally would put it closer to a mix of Japanese Nashi Pear and banana or grape…but don’t take my word for it – you’ll just have to try it for yourself!
Yuu Yuu Farm have discovered another unique feature of the Feijoa – take a careful look at its cross-section:
Notice anything about the shape? While each Feijoa is different, many of them resemble a four-leaf clover on the inside! The Maruyama’s believe that if you are lucky enough to find one like this, it will bring you a lifetime of happiness! Just be careful how many you eat trying to find a lucky one, or it might have the opposite effect…
Eat a Feijoa, Yuu Yuu style!
First of all, a word of advice from the Maruyamas – don’t eat them straight off the tree!! Much like an avocado or banana, the fruit needs to ripen after being picked in order to enjoy its full flavour and texture which changes with the ripening process. Mr. Maruyama recommends waiting a week or so after picking before eating!
And the correct way to eat it? Most tend to cut them in half and scoop out the creamy flesh with a spoon (much like a kiwi) but you could also try the Yuu Yuu Farm recommendation – ‘just go for it!’ Apparently the skin of a Feijoa is also edible so, if you like, you can just sink your teeth straight in! The fruit has naturally occurring insect repellent so you do not need to worry about the use of pesticides etc.
In Japan (or the Northern Hemisphere) Feijoas come into season in late Autumn, around November. However, Yuu Yuu Farm have been working together with local confectionery wizards to create a range of tasty Feijoa products that you can enjoy all year around! Everything from jams, teas and cakes to my personal favourite, the ‘生ドーナツ’ which literally means ‘raw donut’! It is a sweet in a donut shape, but closer to the consistency of a mousse – incredibly tasty!
Alternatively you can always drop in to Yuu Yuu Farm at any time of the year to enjoy a Feijoa Tea Party (and some quality conversation!) in their charming on-site cafe/relaxation space!
More than just a flower!
One of the reasons why Feijoa farming failed to take-off in Japan initially was because of the high maintenance required to successfully grow the fruit, in particular, the pollination process! In Japan, pollination season aligns with rainy season, meaning that Feijoa flowers left open to the elements will often have their pollen washed away before it has the chance to do the deed (via bird, not bee, apparently). As such, the trees at Yuu Yuu farm are kept under shelter from the rain and each single flower is lovingly pollinated BY HAND by the dedicated farmers themselves.
Perhaps due to the amount of careful time spent with the Feijoa trees, where many see just a flower, Yuu Yuu Farm have found all kinds of potential! During flowering season (June-July), you can visit Yuu Yuu Farm to participate in some Feijoa ‘Hanami’ (花見 = flower viewing) sessions and BBQs to appreciate the red and white flowers with their bright yellow pollen.
But the flowers are more than just pleasing to the eye – did you know that you can also eat them?!
The white petal of the flower is edible and surprisingly really delicious!! It has a very sweet, almost a honey-suckle like flavour which you can enjoy straight off the tree or by using the petals in cooking or a cup of tea – ingenious!
A tool for tourism!
Under the careful training and guidance of Yuu Yuu Farm, Feijoa farms have begun popping up all over Japan – in Shiga, Gunma, Yamanashi, Kanagawa, Miyagi and Fukushima Prefectures. As the go-to place for Feijoa growing know-how, the Maruyamas decided to create the ‘Japan Feijoa Association’ to aid in the development of national Feijoa production.
Through this development, the Feijoa has taken on a new identity in each location. Particularly in Oi Town (大井町） in Kanagawa Prefecture, the town has embraced the fruit with enthusiasm, even using it to bolster its local tourism campaign!
Yuu Yuu Farm is also hoping the Feijoa will be a useful tool of international exchange leading up to the 2019 Japan Rugby World Cup! Rugby matches will be held in several locations throughout Japan, including Kamaishi City in the Tohoku region. The Maruyamas are hoping that, just as a common love of Rugby will bring people of different nations together, so too will a common love for the tasty Feijoa!
Fruit Kingdom, Fukushima!
Whilst famous throughout Japan as the ‘Fruit Kingdom’ due to its delicious stone fruit (in particular its giant juicy peaches!), much of the world has a lot left to discover about Fukushima, let alone that there are Feijoas growing there! Before we said goodbye, I asked the Maruyamas what they thought people should know about the prefecture.
Whilst not originally from Fukushima, they have come to appreciate their new home as a place that has the best of everything! There are few places in the world where you can experience both ‘yamakurashi’ (mountain life) by the ocean, some of Japan’s oldest and richest history and culture and, of course, amazing food! Fukushima is everything good about Japan in one place.
Indeed, I was incredibly reluctant to leave Fukushima and the lovely company at Yuu Yuu Farm – time truly flies when you’re having fun! The rest of the story I will leave up to you to ask the Maruyamas over a warm cup of tea and Feijoa cake…!
Visit Yuu Yuu Farm! ゆうゆうファーム
YUYU FARM ゆうゆうファーム
Online store: https://feijoa-dream.stores.jp/