- Farmer: Toyohiro Takao
- Brand: Takao Nouen no Olive Hatake
- Year of settlement: 2006
- Location: Shodoshima, Japan
- Grove: 7 hectares, 2000 trees
- Varieties: Lucca, Mission, Manzanillo, Frantoio, Nevadillo Blanco
- Harvest: from early October to late November, hand-picking
- Mill: Oliomio, 300kg/day
- Productivity: 500 L per year
- Other products: table olives, asparagus, cosmetics made by another firm from his olive oil.
- Specificities: awarded at several extra virgin olive oil international competitions
The one with the Japanese guy who dreamt to be Italian
Toyohiro Takao is one of the forty-ish olive farmers settled on Shōdoshima, a 150 km square island in the southern part of Japan and the country’s hot spot for olive oil production. Very keen on high quality, Takao-san sees way beyond Japan’s shores, always ready to face the international standards for olive oil and submit his products to famous worldwide competitions.
In Olio Veritas – Toyohiro Takao, ohayo gozaimasu. You started your olive business in 2006, could you please tell us more about it ?
Toyohiro Takao – Before growing olives, I had a clothes shop here in Shōdoshima. As it’s a quite different job, I had to learn and train step by step. In reality, at the very beginning, I had very few trees, barely two hundreds. I attended various formations, in Italy but also in California, which is closer to Japan. As I was getting better at what I do, and as the passion for this job and the trees grew dramatically, I had progressively more trees planted. I now have 2000 of them on 7 hectares. I also grow asparagus on another plot because I love it and it’s a perfect match with olive oil !
IOV – Is it easier to sell one’s own production with a shopkeeper history ?
Toyohiro Takao – Doesn’t matter : I sell the whole thing on Amazon ! I adapted to modern technology. And it saves me a lot of time.
IOV – There are roughly 40 olive farmers on a quite small island. What is particular about YOUR olive oil ?
Toyohiro Takao – I do not really care about what others do. I keep focused on my farm, and the cares it requires to have each year a high quality product. To get a fresh green fruityness with strong aromas for instance, I start harvesting very early October. What I lose in quantity, I gain in quality. The average yield in oil from my olives is around 7% or 8%. I could easily reach the double if I decided to let the fruits ripe longer. But the resulting oil would have less taste, therefore this is not something I should do.
IOV – Yet it doesn’t seem that Japanese consumers are very keen on quality, and international standards for olive oil don’t apply in Japan. This obsession about quality is more a personal matter than a marketing strategy ?
Toyohiro Takao – Absolutely. Japanese people are not very used for now to the subtleties of olive oil tasting, and a large majority doesn’t even know what « extra virgin » means. Even amongst the agricultural ministry, a lot of people seem to discover the aromas and particularities that hide behind this word when they come to Shōdoshima. But things may change, and meanwhile I still want to have the best products.
Although Japan is not a member of the International Olive Council (IOC) and IOC’s standards don’t apply here, I personally decided to send samples of my products to Italy every year, to have them analyzed in a lab recognized by the IOC and get their extra virgin certification. Each sample costs me 600€ instead of 80€ if I chose to get Shōdoshima’s lab certification, but this is important to me to have an international approval.
IOV – Quite a lot of people say that Shōdoshima’s climate is not as favorable for olives as it is supposed to be, implying low yields in oil as you mentioned before. How do you cope with that ?
Toyohiro Takao – Yes indeed. Although you’ll often hear that there is a Mediterranean climate here, I think that this is all but true ! We have a lot of rains, and sometimes even typhoons. Constant humidity helps diseases and fungus thrive. Most of the olive growers on the island treat their groves with chemicals, which I don’t want to.
IOV – Meaning that your products is entirely organic ?
Toyohiro Takao – Everywhere I can, I fight diseases and pests with natural means. I mow the lawn rather than using weed killers. Against anthracnose, I decided to leave wide spaces between the rows of trees that I plant, to get rid of moisture. There’s only the olive weevil for which I have no other solution than spraying pesticides, 3 to 4 times a year and only at the basis of the trees, not on the leaves or branches. For this reason, I won’t claim the organic label. But against this bug that literally eats the trees, I haven’t found any other efficient solution so far. Sometimes I almost wished this eastern Asia bug was from Mediterranean area because you would have found a natural way to get rid of it for a long time.
IOV – It seems like you look a lot toward Europe and the Mediterranean see. Is it a model for you ?
Toyohiro Takao – Of course. We’ve been growing olives for barely a century in Japan, we still have a lot to learn. I trust much more those who have the legacy and the heritage. There are nurseries on Shōdoshima for instance, but I decided to have my trees imported from Italy and Greece instead. I also keep a close look on the news in the olive oil universe and I’m really looking forward Antonio Giuseppe Lauro’s upcoming visit in Shōdoshima, a very famous italian olive oil taster and expert.
Last, I regularly submit my oils to international competitions, to face the worldwide production. I got a few awards, in New-York and Paris for instance. By the way, I’ll be in Paris next January for the Olio Nuovo Days and I hope we’ll have the pleasure to meet again there !
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