The wintry months are usually not associated with fruit harvesting. Some people may be surprised to learn that fruit picking in a popular winter activity in Okinawa. Located in the most southern part of Japan, Okinawa experiences a mild winter and its subtropical climate is ideal for the growth of a wide variety of fruits and vegetables.
In the months of January and February, many people like to head to the north of Okinawa to pick tankan. What is a tankan (タンカン)? Tankan is a member of the large family of citrus fruits that is grown in Japan. Tankan is mostly produced in warmer parts of Japan like Okinawa and Kyushu regions like Kagoshima and Amami Oshima. Tankan is easily confused with mikan. Mikan, found in many parts of Japan, especially prefectures like Shizuoka, Wakayama and Ehime, is slightly bigger and sweeter. Some people like to call tankan the “Okinawan tangerine”. The thick-skinned tankan is hard to peel. Once you persevere and survive the peeling stage, you can enjoy the juicy fresh that has a refreshing balance of sweetness and tanginess.
In my opinion, tankan tastes even better when one experiences the process of picking it, peels it and savors in under the fruit tree. In the Motobu region of Okinawa, along route 84, Izumi is a place well known for its tankan orchards. The area, known as “Yambaru (やんばる)” in Okinawa dialect, is a Nature paradise surrounded by lush greenery. The fruits of "Yambaru" like tankan, shikwasa, pineapples are popular in Japan for their outstanding quality.
Before heading to Izumi, you can call the “Mikan no Sato (みかんの里)” information center to enquire about the availability of tankan in the orchards and whether they are ripe enough to be harvested. Once you reach the information centre, they will arrange for a farmer to guide you to a tankan orchard. Most orchards in Izumi usually have signs on road welcoming people and are usually located within 5 to 10 minutes driving distance from the information center. You just have to drive your car and follow the farmer’s truck to his orchard.
Once you reach the orchard, you are required to pay a very reasonable fee of about 250 yen for an adult and enjoy unlimited time picking tankan in the orchard. The farmer will hand you baskets to collect your freshly picked tankan. The best part about tankan picking is that you can eat all you want while you are in the orchard. You can also take home your hand-picked tankan for about 300 yen per kilogram, which is much cheaper than retail price.
Entering the orchard is like opening the door to an “orange” haven. There are so many trees adorned with tankan that seem to glisten in full orange glory under the blue sky. The tangy scent of freshly peeled tankan lingers in the fresh air filtered by the dense mountains. The bright orange tankan is apparently the sweetest as it is blessed by direct exposure to sunlight.
Remember to wear comfortable clothes as you may have to borrow one of the readily available ladders in the orchard and embark on a climbing expedition to capture the brightest and sweetest tankan. Try one tankan from each tree and attack the tree that produces juicy tankan. After you have eaten as much tankan as your stomach can hold and filled your basket, you will end your fruit picking adventure by passing the basket to the farmer. Then, the farmer will weigh your basket and charge you accordingly.
After a productive session of fruits picking, reward yourself by visiting the nearby Yae mountain to view the cherry blossoms. The cherry trees usually bloom at the same time when the tankan is ready for harvest!
For more information about cherry blossoms viewing in Okinawa, visit here!
Address - Mikan no Sato (みかんの里): 〒905-0021 沖縄県国頭郡本部町字伊豆味2846-13
Contact number: +81 980-47-2889