Heavy machinery was being employed to scoop out river silt from deserted homes inundated with mud and rocks. In nearby "kaki" persimmon orchards, ripening fruit was awaiting harvest.

I recently visited the persimmon-producing city of Asakura in Fukuoka Prefecture, which was severely damaged by torrential rains that hit northern Kyushu in July.

Fukuoka ranks third in the nation, after Wakayama and Nara prefectures, in the volume of persimmon shipments. Normally, shipments begin in the latter half of September, starting with the "Nishimura" variety, and then "Izu" and "Soshu," in that order, followed just around now by the famed "Fuyuu."

But this year is an anomaly. Roads are still impassable in places, blocking persimmon growers' access to their groves. And the city's fruit sorting center remains buried under mud.

"The flooding was unlike anything we had ever experienced," said Toshimitsu Hamazaki, 45, chief of the disaster reconstruction management department of JA (Japan Agricultural Cooperatives) Chikuzen Asakura. "The bulk of persimmon growers here are in their 70s and older, and quite a few became too discouraged to keep going."

This year's shipments are estimated at 70 percent of the pre-flood volume.

Asakura's persimmons are extra-sweet, thanks to the ample sunlight they receive in their southern-exposure orchards and the crystal clear spring water that flows into the Chikugo River.

But this longest river of Kyushu has another "face." It has brought what the locals call "yama tsunami" (tsunami of the mountains) and "bofu kozui" (severe storm flooding) that overran and destroyed levees.

The town history of Haki (present-day Asakura) chronicles a series of catastrophic floods that have ravaged the region since the modern era.

Hamazaki has held get-togethers almost every evening this month with the local persimmon farmers to find out what they want.

Their initial gloom gradually lifted and optimism returned as the participants discussed which roads to repair and which groves to abandon. One farmer said, "I guess I'll go back to work once all the road blocks have been cleared." Another chimed in, "If you're going to do that, I'll do the same."

Last year, the city experienced an epidemic of anthracnose, a fungal disease that attacks plants. And this past July, there were those torrential rains that require rewriting the city's history.

It is as if the city has been visited with one calamity after another. But the farmers' resolve to keep going has been reignited by the robust persimmons that survived the disaster.

Walking in the groves on an autumn day, I sensed the comeback of the Asakura brand.

--The Asahi Shimbun, Oct. 21.

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Vox Populi, Vox Dei is a popular daily column that takes up a wide range of topics, including culture, arts and social trends and developments. Written by veteran Asahi Shimbun writers, the column provides useful perspectives on and insights into contemporary Japan and its culture.