December Maker's Story: Arida Mikan from Sowa Kajuen

December Maker's Story: Arida Mikan from Sowa Kajuen

December marks the coming of winter, and while we may not think of it, mandarin oranges or mikan (みかん) are strongly associated with this cold season in Japan! Mikan trees bear fruit during the colder months, typically from November to February, and their sweet and tangy flavour becomes a delightful and refreshing treat during the chilly winter days. The tradition of enjoying mikan during winter is deeply rooted in Japanese culture, and these oranges are often found in homes, given as gifts, and enjoyed as a symbol of the winter season's arrival. 

So it’s only fitting that we have Sowa Kajuen (早和果樹園) of Arida City (有田市), Wakayama Prefecture (和歌山県), as one of our featured makers this month. As part of the ensemble in JAPAN RAIL CLUB’s December “Merry Citrus” Omiyage Snack Box, we caught up with Mr. Ueyama (上山) to find out more about the brand and why this region’s mandarin oranges taste so good!

 


Video by Sowa Kajuen

 

Hi Ueyama-san! Thank you for your time today. Can you tell us more about the history of Sowa Kajuen and Arida mikan?

It all started when seven specialised mikan farmers founded the Sowa Kyosei Association (早和共選組合) in 1979. However, due to a slump in the market price of mikan and poor cultivation due to abnormal weather conditions, we started to engage in agro-processing. Since our establishment on 1 November 2000, the company has become a sixth industry company, handling the entire process of producing, manufacturing and selling mikan on our own. 

 

Arida mikan oranges in a farmArida mandarin oranges | Photo by Sowa Kajuen

 

Sowa Kajuen is based in Arida City in Wakayama Prefecture. As the largest mikan producing area in Japan, Arida City has a history of more than 450 years of Arida mikan and is surrounded by mountains as far as the eye can see. The mild year-round climate with a small temperature difference between day and night is ideal for growing mandarin oranges, and the shallow, well-drained soil produces and nurtures Arida mikan.

 

Sowa Kajuen Mikan Juice and Smoothie
Nomu Mikan Juice and Ofukuro Smoothie | Photo by Sowa Kajuen

 

What are some of Sowa Kajuen’s representative products?  

That would be the Drinking Mikan (Nomu Mikan) Juice and the Whole Mikan Jelly. The Ofukuro Smoothie Mikan is also a popular product, which was featured in July’s “Taste of the Sea” Omiyage Snack Box.


Sowa Kajuen Mikan Jelly and Jam
Whole Mikan Jelly (top) and Smooth Mikan Jam (bottom) | Photo by Sowa Kajuen

 

Oh, the Whole Mikan Jelly is one of the two Sowa Kajuen products in our Omiyage Snack Box! Could you tell us more about them?

Whole Mikan Jelly (果樹園のみかんジュレ まるごと): Cultivated with care, our Whole Mikan Jelly encapsulates the essence of Arida mandarins. Containing 70% straight fruit juice, the syrup from the entire mikan is solidified, creating a luxurious jelly that's a true ode to the mikan fruit. It's a mandarin lover's delight.

Smooth Mikan Jam (果樹園のなめらかみかんジャム): The popular Smooth Mikan Jam (130g) brims with the richness of Arida mandarins. As the peel is excluded and only the pulp squeezed out, there's no bitterness, just a gentle taste that is beloved by many. Spread it on bread, mix it with yogurt, or savour it like a fruity sauce – the possibilities are endless.

 

Mikan-picking
Photo by Sowa Kajuen

 

What are some key features of your company’s products and practices?

Only locally-produced Arida mikan are used, and by purchasing Arita mandarins from local farmers at a premium price, we are able to contribute back to the farmers. 

 

Meticulous process of separating the peel from the mikan in Sowa Kajuen
Meticulously handled with care | Photo by Sowa Kajuen

 

Our signature Drinking Mikan Juice is made by peeling the mikan and pressing only the pulp to provide mikan juice without the bitterness from the peel (the taste of mikan as they are). From an environmental point of view, the whole mikan is fully utilised—the peel of the mikan is not thrown away, but is dried and used as an ingredient in our products.

 

Happy fans at Sowa Kajuen's yearly AgriFan Festa
Agri-Fan Festa | Photo by Sowa Kajuen

 

In addition to that, I heard that Sowa Kajuen also organises events occasionally for visitors to the facilities.

That’s right. Every year on the second Sunday of November, the fan event 'Agri-Fan Festa' is held at Sowa Kajuen’s orchards. Enjoy experiences like mikan harvesting, games using mikan, and local cuisine made from homegrown produce. If you happen to be in Wakayama in November, be sure to join the event!

 

Sowa Kajuen's Main Shop in Arida, Wakayama.
Sowa Kajuen’s Main Store in Arida City | Photo by Sowa Kajuen

 

That sounds like fun! Lastly, do you have a message for our readers?

Sowa Kajuen’s products are well-loved not just domestically in Japan, but also around the world—we have exported our products to China, Shanghai, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Macau, Singapore, Indonesia, France, Netherlands, Germany, UK, Kuwait, USA (Hawaii).

In the products that we make, we value the awareness that only a producer can have, and we adhere to the principle of authenticity by making the most of the taste of the ingredients themselves. Please visit us at Arida City, the kingdom of mikan, when you get the chance!

 

From Osaka, make your way to Wakayama Station (~1.5 hours) and take the Kinokuni Line for Kii-Miyahara Station (about 35 minutes). Sowa Kajuen’s Main Store is located 5 minutes away by car from the station.

Subscribe to JAPAN RAIL CLUB’s Snack Box Subscription Plan to try two of Sowa Kajuen’s mikan products and other Japanese treats in “Merry Citrus” Omiyage Snack Box, exclusively available in December 2023. Order yours now!

Meet the author

Sue Lynn

Currently based in Tokyo, Sue Lynn first came to Japan as a university exchange student. With 6 years of experience in Japan's inbound tourism, she is familiar with Japan, particularly on rail passes and East Japan spots, and has a passion for travelling.

Sue is also passionate about Japan's thrifting culture, and is keen to uncover more hidden gems while visiting all 47 prefectures during her stay in Japan.

Sue's 5Cs are cats, cameras, cinema, climbing, and city pop. Ask her about how her favourite JR Pass (JR TOKYO Wide Pass) saved her life (and wallet).

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