The Pride of Fukushima


Rhonita Patnaik

Published: Thu 17 Feb 2022, 5:04 PM

Ever since the Great East Japan Earthquake tragedy 10 years ago, the fear of nuclear contamination has had an adverse effect on the nation’s agricultural and food sector, especially in Fukushima and neighbouring areas. But the Japanese government and farmers have been relentlessly taking steps to restrict the distribution potentially contaminated food. One such produce is Anpogaki persimmons, which are very unique to the nation and very often termed as ‘Pride of Fukushima’ where they are grown in abundance.

Anpogaki persimmons have a beautifully brilliant orange color, just the right firmness of texture, and a luscious sweetness. These are literally a piece of art. To make it edible, persimmons undergo a 45 to 60-day waiting period before they can be consumed. The tough persimmons, once plucked, would be peeled and fumigated with sulfur prior to drying in order to prevent them from oxidising and darkening — thus preserving their bright colour. Hung to dry in the windy weathers of Fukushima, the persimmons would let go of their sugar inside that would form on the outside of the fruit, thus making it soft and easy to chew in the mouth. Definitely worth the wait!

Suda Tamika, anpogaki farmer at Date City in Fukushima, explains the tedious process of harvesting. “Anpogaki persimmons are world-famous and very much in demand. The fruits are harvested in the month of November. We then peel the skin of the fruit after which they undergo fumigation before drying. This is an age-old but effective process. We then hang the fruits by strings which take upto 45 days to ripen and be fit for consumption.”

Lauding the government’s support, she says that the resumption of exports post-NDT will go a long way to promote the fruit and Japanese heritage worldwide.

Need for NDT testing

After the aftermath of 3.11 and the destruction of Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Plant, the export of agricultural products was under scrutiny due to the fear of radioactive contamination. For decades, Japan has been a trading partner with many nations, mainly agricultural. This 0deemed it necessary to preserve the reputation of the nation that produced some of the best produce in the world.

Japan attracted global attention in 2013 with the International Olympic Committee's decision to hold the 2020 Olympics and Paralympics in Tokyo. It was then when the traditional dietary cultures of the Japan grabbed the attention. In order to analyse the radioactive environmental contamination, Non-Destructive Testing (NDT) facility was set-up in Fukushima and to roll out the safety check on the food, water and other facilities.

Fukushima Prefecture conducts repeated inspections on all food products produced in the prefecture in each stage of production, distribution and consumption, in order to ensure their safety. They only ship products that are certified to be safe through multiple inspections in each stage with cooperation among municipal and prefectural government, production areas, producers, distributors and retailers.

One such testing centre is located in Sugitsuma-cho, Fukushima City to exclusively test anpogaki for domestic and export consumption.

Masashi Endo, JA Fukushima Mirai, speaks about the process that is carried out at the NDT facility to ensure the safety of fruit.

“The whole process takes 30 seconds in total. The standard criteria to pass is 50 becquerel per kilogram. If the results are beyond 50 becquerel, the fruits are discarded. We conduct 100 per cent non-destructive inspection to check that radiation level does not exceed the given limit. Any fruits present in the market are guaranteed with 100 per cent safety and assurance that their radiation level is below 50 becquerels per kg.”

Talking about the exclusive factory that has state-of-the-art equipment to check radiation levels of the fruits, Endo emphasises on the locations where they do the non-destructive testing on anpogaki. “We launched this facility in 2013. Today, we have five different locations but this remains the biggest location and we solely do the testing on the anpogaki fruit. Each machine cost 50 million yen and in totality, we have 33 machines at all the locations. This is just one of the efforts to show what care we take in ensure consumer safety.”

Explaining the entire process of testing right from harvesting the seasonal fruit, Endo explains: “We begin carrying out the testing in the month of November, when the fruit is harvested and it continues until March. Keeping up the quality of the fruit, the department makes sure that if there is any individual fruit packaging exceeding the radiation, then the whole box is discarded.

To make the standards even more stricter, Endo says: “We support our farmers but at the same time we don’t want to compromise on the product quality we supply to the market. In order to make sure that fruit that is being harvested meets the testing criteria, we roll out the test on the leaf of the tree and even if after several attempts the tree doesn’t meet the required criteria, we advise the farmers to cut down the tree.”

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