The following is an excerpt from an article that was originally published in Issue 1 of inCiderJapan magazine.
Although cider has been available in Japan for a number of years, the market for it – both as producers and consumers – is still relatively new. Unlike countries such as England, America, or France, where cider and cider making have a long history and tradition, in Japan it has been mostly due to economic necessity that has brought about interest in the drink.
Japan has for ages been an apple country, but the ever-diminishing number of younger apple growers aggravated by the increase of bad weather and natural disasters has forced apple orchardists and farmers all over the country to adopt inventive practices and acknowledge cider as a new source of revenue.
One such region is the town of Matsukawa, located in the Shimoina District in southern Nagano Prefecture. As with many other neighbouring villages, Matsukawa is famous for its apples. There are some 200 farms within a population of 13,100 people cultivating an astonishing variety of apples and other fruit, including pears, cherries, blueberries, prunes, and plums.
I visited Matsukawa in October to meet with several local farmers to discuss the town’s and Japan’s budding cider industry. I was guided by my friend and resident apple orchardist, Hidekazu Kaneyama, who runs Farm Kaneyama, a family-owned company that’s been in business for over 30-years selling apples grown from solely natural organic fertilizer, and offering apple picking tours. Mr. Kaneyama told me he guessed there are about ten farms in Matsukawa that have been making cider for the last three to four years.
Our first stop was Mashino Winery, a small but very important aspect of the town’s cider production. They began as an apple juice maker three decades ago, but decided to expand into apple wine after the start of US apple juice imports began to affect sales. In 1991, they received their wine-making license and have been doing so until three years ago, when they added carbonated cider to their roster. Lead by amiable President Kiyoshi Miyazawa, Mashino Winery is fortunate in that they are able to manufacture both – most wineries whether specializing in apple or grape wines have only the manpower and resources to focus on wines.