A growing number of apple growers in Japan are going into the cider business, often with the help of government assistance aimed at vitalizing local economies threatened by the graying of Japan's dwindling population of farmers.
Like other regions in the country where apples are grown, the graying of apple producers is an acute problem in Aomori Prefecture, located at the northern tip of Japan's main island of Honshu and the nation's largest apple production region.
The problem of not having enough people to harvest apples is compounded by the crop's susceptibility to weather conditions such as typhoons, resulting in income volatility, according to an official of the regional agricultural cooperative known as JA Zen-Noh Aomori.
Recognizing the need for greater earning power among those involved in the apple business in the region, the city of Hirosaki in Aomori has intensified a business-government partnership over the past several years to develop the business potential of cider, an alcoholic drink made from fermented apples.
Cider tasting events have proven popular among tourists, according to the municipal government.
Shoji Tamura, the 59-year-old head of Tamura Farm, an apple-processing company in Hirosaki, has been making cider from the apples that he grows, and his apple sparkling wine went on to win a prize at the International Cider Fair in Frankfurt, Germany, last year.
In Hanamaki, a city in neighboring Iwate Prefecture where apple growers are having a hard time finding successors, small-scale farmers can now make cider from their apples under government deregulation in 2016.
Farmers "will be more willing to produce apples if making cider leads to a greater income," a city official said. "We hope that eventually, people will move into this area (to grow apples) and settle permanently."
Iizuna, a town in Nagano Prefecture, has been helping producers do everything from growing apples to harvesting the crops and selling apple products -- in cooperation with local firms. Companies in Toyama and Kyoto prefectures are also actively involved in cider production in partnership with producers.
"In recent years sweet alcoholic drinks have been favored over beer. The quality (of cider) is likely to get better in many areas," predicted Tsukasa Ono, general manager of the Cider Master Association of Japan, a group comprising restaurant operators and apple farmers.
© Kyodo News International, Inc., source Newswire