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Nanae’s good stories 01

Birthplace of Western apples

The cultivation of Western apples in Nanae Town saw the beginning of Western-style modern agriculture in Japan.

Nanae Town is where Western apples were cultivated for the first time in Japan. Accordingly, apples are one of Nanae’s local specialties even now, and an apple flower is designated as the flower of the town. Nanae Town is deeply related to apples.

R. Gaertner, a trader from Prussia (now Germany), cultivated Western apples for the first time in Japan. He left Hakodate and traveled around southern Hokkaido in the late Edo era to find the most suitable place to start farming, and decided that Nanae was ideal because of its abundant groundwater from mountains, favorable sunshine conditions, fertile land, and proximity to Hakodate, where there is a port.
Amid the confusion of the Battle of Hakodate in 1868, Gaertner concluded the Nanae Village Cultivation Treaty with Takeaki Enomoto, who occupied Ezochi. Under the treaty, he was able to rent approximately 9.9 million square meters of land on condition that he taught Western-style modern agriculture to local farmers.

Full-scale land cultivation began in 1869. Aiming at the cultivation, processing, sales, and distribution of food in the future, Gaertner imported 22 varieties of seedlings, including Western apple and grape seedlings, and introduced Western-style large agricultural implements. Therefore, it can be said that Nanae Town is the birthplace of Western apples as well as Western-style modern agriculture in Japan.

In 1870, the new Meiji Government felt threatened by the fact that so much land was owned by a foreigner and the possibility that, following on from Gaertner’s farm, not only Hokkaido but also Japan would be colonized by Western powers. As a result, it payed 62,500 dollars (value 10 years ago: approx. 1.2 billion yen) as compensation to regain the land from Gaertner. The land, which was managed as Nanae Cultivation Land, was cultivated by the Hokkaido Development Commission, and was commonly called Nanae Public Garden. At this point, 68 apple trees planted by Gaertner were taken over by the government.

The varieties of apple seedlings imported from the USA and Canada to Nanae Public Garden between 1872 and 1876 included Red Astrachan, American Summer Pearmain, Jonathan, and Ralls Janet, which are still popular varieties in Japan.
In 1877, Tatee Kikuchi, a pioneer of apple cultivation in Aomori Prefecture, learned about apple cultivation in Nanae Public Garden and spread the cultivation techniques to other areas. This shows that apples in Aomori have their roots in Nanae.

In Nanae, seedlings were grown and distributed at the public garden, which helped to spread fruit cultivation in the private sector in the Meiji era (1867–1911). During the Second World War, numerous apple trees were cut down on government orders. After the war, however, the reconstruction of apple gardens was actively promoted, and research and development was conducted on new varieties and cultivation technology. Tamura and various other apple varieties have been developed, and apples have become the most popular local product in Onuma.

Coverage cooperation: Hisashi Yamada, Curator, Nanae Historical Museum