Photo/IllutrationHigh-grade bananas with edible skins, named “Kirei,” are grown in abundance and harvested for the first time since the 2011 earthquake in Hirono, Fukushima Prefecture, on Aug. 19. (Koichi Tokonami)

  • Photo/Illustraion

HIRONO, Fukushima Prefecture--Farmers here hard-hit by the 2011 Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant disaster harvested high-grade bananas for the first time, which they are counting on to revive the town's agricultural businesses.

They won't be cheap. One banana will cost about 300 yen ($2.80). They do, however, have edible skins.

After soliciting brand names for the bananas from the public, farmers decided to call them “Kirei,” meaning beautiful.

The bananas, which originate in the area, were picked on Aug. 19.

It's a moment farmers and local residents have long yearned for. The town lies along the Pacific coast in the southern part of the Hamadori district where sales of agricultural products from the area flatlined following the accident at the plant triggered by the Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami.

“Nobody would have imagined this banana harvest eight and half years ago when the tsunami and nuclear accident occurred," said Fukushima Governor Masao Uchibori, who attended the harvest.

"The prefectural government will help promote it in the hope of getting a good market price.”

Local residents have high expectations for the harvest, seen as the first step toward recovery since the 2011 disaster.

By next spring, about 35,000 Kirei bananas will be harvested. The town plans to put itself back on the map for agriculture by expanding its distribution as luxury bananas produced in Fukushima Prefecture.

In September 2018, the town’s promotion corporation planted about 150 young banana trees at a long-dormant agricultural facility. Initially, they were just 1 meter high each, but grew to about three meters.

About 100 bananas were picked from a tree packed with the fruit on Aug. 19. The bananas were transferred to a storage facility where they would be allowed to mature for about one month, turning from green to yellow as their sweetness increases.

The first shipment is scheduled for late September.

The town plans to produce about 200,000 of the pricey bananas for the next three years. They are scheduled to be sold at a farmer’s market in Futatsunuma Comprehensive Park in Hirono, as well as at the J-Village sporting complex located in Naraha and Hirono towns, Spa Resort Hawaiians in Iwaki and department stores in Tokyo.

The banana planting facility will be open to the public as an agricultural farm for tourists. To secure demand and expand its business, an ownership system for the banana plants will be introduced in the future.

“I put my full heart into the bananas to reconstruct the town,” said Hirono Mayor Satoshi Endo.

The town will hold a harvest festival on Sept. 22 and 23 and give out small bananas to those who attend.

The path to restarting agriculture here is certainly daunting, but the town has also made moves to resume rice planting by teaming up with agricultural production corporations in other prefectures.