In Japan there are many regions that are known for having abundant fruit produce. One of them, Yamagata Prefecture, is especially known for its cherries, and accounts for about 70 percent of the nation’s cherry production.
During the Meiji Period (1868-1912), German trader Richard Gaertner introduced cherries to Japan. Cherry cultivation was tested throughout Japan over several years, but most areas failed due to a lack of cherry knowledge combined with the very delicate nature of the cherries themselves. However, in 1876, when cherry seedlings imported from countries including America and France were planted in Yamagata Prefecture by the Ministry of Home Affairs, it was found that the climate and natural features perfectly matched those needed for cherry production. Because the prefecture has relatively little frost and bears negligible damage from typhoons, cherry production succeeded.
Following this success, private organizations and the government cooperated to spread cherry growing throughout Yamagata Prefecture, and Yamagata became the top producer of cherries nationwide. Not only cherry production, but cherry picking became a major industry as well.
Of the many types of cherries produced in Yamagata, the most popular is the Sato Nishiki. Accounting for about 70 percent of national production and popular abroad as well, Sato Nishiki cherries offer the trifecta of taste, aesthetic appeal and long shelf life.
The originator of Sato Nishiki cherries was the farmer Eisuke Sato of Higashine City, Yamagata Prefecture. In the early 20th century, the breeds of cherries available would often go bad quickly once they were harvested, spoiled while being exported, and had countless other problems. To address the situation, Sato crossbred Tobaz cherries – which have a good flavor but short shelf life – with Napoleon cherries, which are incredibly sour but have a long shelf life. After 16 years of effort, the Sato Nishiki was born, boasting large fruit a refreshingly sweet taste.
Yamagata offers little rain even during the rainy season, positive temperatures throughout the day and well into the night, and good ventilation for the trees. Though cherry production is easily disrupted by minor environmental changes, cherries produced in Yamagata Prefecture continue to be delicious to this day. The cherry season is from June to July, so why not try picking and eating fresh cherries in Yamagata?