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New wave farmers, brewers revitalize Japan’s hop industry

Iwate Prefecture in northeastern Japan is the country’s largest producing area of hops. Hop, one of the main ingredients of beer, is a perennial herb whose bines grow up trellises of about five meters tall. “Konnichiwa~ Yoroshiku onegaishimasu.” Female flowers, known as hop cones, are the “soul of beer” and are harvested in late August through early September. The city of Tono is a core site for hop growing in Iwate, but the city’s output and the number of farmers have long been diminishing due to old age, the lack of successors and the pervasion of cheap imports. “As you can see, we work in teams to harvest the hop.” “The further away (a farm is), the longer it would take for the hop to reach the processing center for drying the hops.” Atsushi Yoshida, president of Beer Experience Co., is seeking a breakthrough in the situation By introducing a cultivation method typically used in Germany, one of the world’s major hop producing countries. “The number of hop farmers has been decreasing not only in Tono but across Japan. As we are unlikely going to be able to increase the number of farmers, I thought why not try another approach — increasing the acreage per existing hop farmer. That’s why we decided to introduce a new cultivation method here. By improving mechanization and work efficiency, we can increase the cultivation acreage beyond the current level, which some say is as far as Japan can go, to the same level as in Germany. That way even as the number of farmers decline, we will be able to secure the amount of Japan-grown hop. Our greatest mission is to collect and release data of our production to convince fellow hop farmers in Japan that the German way of cultivation, where investment is reflected by increased farming acreage and increased sales, is the way to go for business to continue here in Japan as well.” Efforts by Yoshida and others to revive the hop industry in Tono, coupled with the growing popularity of craft beer in Japan, have attracted new entreprenuers to the city who want to give it a try in beer brewing. Among them is Daisuke Hakamada from Aomori, who moved to Tono in April 2017. He opened “Tono Brewing Taproom,” a small brewery and restaurant in May 2018 with two others who have also moved to the city from elsewhere. Hakamada: “I wanted a job in which I can produce something with my own hands, even if in just small amounts, for customers. That’s why I decided to give it a try in making beer, which I’ve loved since college, and set foot in this market. The most attractive thing about Tono is that this is a major production area of hops in Japan, which means the ingredient is close at hand and this enables us to use freshly picked hops for brewing. That brings out the fresh flavor of the hops in the beer. At our brewery, we aim to be deeply rooted in our community. By connecting good quality local produce with beer and making them shine, and by creating new local employment at our brewery, I hope we can contribute to the development of the region as much as possible.”

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