Dojo Hachiya Gaki
Hachiyagaki is a variety of persimmon native to the village of Hachiyamachi, Minokamo, Gifu prefecture. Hachiyamachi, near the town of Minokamo, is located between Sekigahara, Guzyo, Hida and Ena: in Hachiyamachi itself winters are particularly mild, the suitable climate for the drying persimmon. Hachiyagaki is a variety is currently grown in about 15 prefectures. It is very highly regarded and suitable for drying (the fresh fruit has a high tannic content and an astringent taste, but when it has been dried it becomes sweet and tasty). Dojou-Hachiyagaki used to be offered as a gift to the imperial court around the middle of the Heian period; it was highly appreciated for its flavor ‘as sweet as honey’ which gave rise to the name Dojou (it means variety of persimmon) Hachiya (its native village, meaning the ‘house of the bees’). The name Dojou-Hachiyagaki, meaning ‘persimmon offered in honor of the noble person’ too, was coined in this period, distinguishing Hachiyagaki from other persimmon products outside the Gifu prefecture. Since shogun Hideyoshi Toyotomi has been unified Japan at the end of Sixteenth century, Hachiyagaki was offered to the court in his honor every year. As a result of this offering, the village of Hachiya was able to enjoy certain privileges, such as a reduction in land tax, which was usually paid in rice, and an exemption from various annual services at court. The privileges of the village of Hachiya were maintained until the Edo period, and only after 265 years, following the Meiji reform, did the new government order them to be suspended. But the fame of Dojou-Hachiyagaki did not disappear: it had been presented several times at the National Exhibition and World Exhibitions in Vienna, Paris and Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition (in Seattle), where its outstanding quality was officially recognized. However, with the expansion of the sericulture industry and silk’s status as a leading export, the persimmon fields were gradually replaced by mulberry and the cultivation of Hachiyagaki began to disappear. At the beginning of the Showa period (1940’s), Toshio Murase, a 20 year old small farmer, decided he would try to recover the Hachiyagaki. After a lengthy search, he found the original tree in the garden of an old family house. The old processing methods were also revived, thanks to old patriarchs of the village. During the war in the Pacific the government ordered an increase in food production and cultivation of cereals temporarily replaced persimmon, which had finally reached maturity. Then, after the war, cultivation of Hachiyagaki was resumed thanks to Murase’s efforts. Convinced that this special product had to be passed down to future generations, the young farmer founded an association for the promotion of Hachiyagaki in 1978. The Hachiyagaki mother tree in Murase’s garden is now protected and is used to obtain the grafts that are distributed to members of the association. There are precise rules governing production, from growing and harvesting through to transformation. Pruning and basic fertilizing are carried out from December to March: the crown is pruned and nutrition provided for blossoming and fructification. Another essential practice is Arakawakezuri, whereby the bark surface is scraped (between January and March) to prevent attack by harmful insects and disease. In mid-May the excess buds are removed to encourage better fruit growth. Green (summer) pruning is carried out in June. Thinning is carried out in July: some unripe fruits are picked to prevent fructification in alternate years and to encourage the maturation of larger, better quality persimmons. After harvesting, from November to December, the fruit is left to complete its ripening for another 3/7 days. The fruit is then hung in the drier using a line called ‘Ren’. Within few hours of peeling, it is fumigated with powdered sulfur and it is dried in the shade in a well ventilated location for ten days. It is covered with a cloth during the night and in the event of rain. After a period varying from 10 to 26 days after peeling, the fruit is dried in the sun in a location where the wind blows from the north. To prevent rain, frost or dew causing damage, a double layer cloth of vinyl and cotton is used to protect the fruit . While the persimmon is drying in the sun, it is repeatedly turned by hand (tegaeshi) to ensure all parts dry uniformly. After the drying process has been completed, the surface of the persimmon is rubbed using a special technique (temomi), the fruit is removed from the Ren and examined. Good quality fruit is packed in a wooden box with straw, ready for sale. The method of cultivation is very delicate and the processing requires considerable care, hence difficulties in finding willing young producers (he number of members of the producer association has not increased since 2002). Unfortunately, the age of members is increasing and many of them are unable to send the product to potential buyers. An ordering system has now been set up in order to deliver the product to customers at the optimal time. The Hachiya section of JA Megumino (the agricultural consortium) opens to accept orders at 9am sharp on the morning of December 1. Advance orders are received for 60% of annual production. In order to pass on knowledge of the Hachiyagaki processing method, the association holds an annual course about Hachiyagaki growing for students in the second and sixth grades of elementary school in Hachiya. The product is distributed to old people who live alone in Hachiyamachi. In January the Hachiyagaki tea ceremony is celebrated at the temple of Zuirinji (in Hachiyamachi), the so-called Kaki-dera (the temple of persimmon), with many adults and children in attendance. The Minokamo municipality finances the cost of new Hachiyagaki equipment each year.