|Author: ||T. Tamada|
|Keywords: ||native Vaccinium, climatic condition, growing area, fruit production, consumption volume, fruit price, research, consumer¿s taste|
In Japan, 18 Vaccinium species grow wild and have not been improved through breeding for commercial growing.
The introduction of blueberry plants into Japan began in 1951. However, commercial blueberry culture made slow progress with only 10 ha planted by 1980. After that, blueberry culture and fruit consumption increased rapidly and by 2003, blueberries were planted on about 400 ha and fruit production had increased to 1,200 t.
An additional 13,000 t of fresh and frozen fruit (including lowbush blueberry) are imported from foreign countries to meet the demands of the Japanese consumers who are eating blueberry for the nutraceutical benefits.
About 40 cultivars of northern highbush and more than 20 cultivars of southern highbush and rabbiteye have been tested in Japan.
Based on air temperature, blueberry growing regions may be roughly divided into three zones in Japan; a) northern highbush are grown in the northern part and the highland areas of the main island that are relatively cool during the growing season (April to October), b) all three types are grown in the central region of the main island, c) mainly rabbiteye and southern highbush are grown in the southern region, which is warmer during the winter season.
Most Japanese consumers prefer fresh, large and sweet blueberry fruit.
However, it is very difficult to produce high quality fruit, because the ripening season of highbush blueberry cultivars occurs during the rainy season (June and July). Additionally the soil types range from volcanic ash to brown forest soil, to red and yellow clay soils that have poor aeration and drainage.
For these reasons, the primary areas of blueberry research in Japan are as follows: 1) breeding for new, early cultivars with large size and sweet fruit such as the new Japanese cultivars ‘Ootsubu-boshi’ and ‘Amatsubu-boshi’, 2) testing of northern and southern highbush and rabbiteye cultivars, 3) soil amendment, mineral nutrition and diagnosis of nutrient status, 4) integrated pest management, 5) forcing northern highbush and southern highbush to produce high quality fruit before the beginning of the rainy season, 6) post-harvest storage and quality tests during the rainy season and mid-summer, and 7) cultural studies to enhance plant vigor and growth through training and pruning.
In the next 10 years, the blueberry growing area is expected to expand to 1,000 ha, and production volume will be increased to 3,000-4,000 t.
Total blueberry fruit consumption in the country is estimated to increase to 30,000 t.
Because Japanese taste for blueberry fruit will probably remain the same, the demand for blueberry fruit will increase.
In the future, “good taste”, “safety”, “natural”, “healing” and “healthy” will be important key words for blueberry production in Japan.
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