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Akinori Kimura’s MIRACLE APPLES – Chapter 12/24

Four years passed, and as the fifth year dawned the state of the apple orchards continued to deteriorate. From dawn ‘til dusk, every day for five years, the four of them – the Kimuras and their parents – continued to care for their barren orchards. Neighbours could only conclude that this was sheer folly.

Being cheerful yet earnest, Kimura had many friends. In the beginning they too had been worried about Kimura. Being farmers, like Kimura, it was obvious to them that Kimura’s orchards didn’t look normal. However you looked at it, Kimura was heading in the wrong direction.

‘You knew that pesticide-free was going too far didn’t you? At least acknowledge that.’

‘How about taking your wife and children into consideration?’

Their criticism sprang from their concern as friends. However sympathetic they were when talking to him, Kimura would simply shrug in denial. Having a firm conviction sounds good, but clinging on to the belief in spite of failing to achieve anything, his family was plunging deeper into poverty. In the eyes of others, this amounted to nothing more than pigheadedness. Getting angry with Kimura and the way he ignored their sincere advice, his friends gave up on him. Friendly words of caution became quarrels, and sometimes terrible arguments.

One friend left, then another, until, in due course, all Kimura’s farmer friends disappeared. More and more people he bumped into on the street would bow their heads and pretend not to notice him. This was not just because they were acquaintances. It was almost certainly because Kimura’s face at the time looked so grimly determined. One can imagine how dejected he must have looked, wearing a frown as though he’d swallowed something sour. Meeting someone like that would put anyone off.

It was around then that Kimura acquired the nickname kamadokeshi, the worst thing you can call someone in the Tsugaru dialect. He certainly had it coming to him. The fact was that the head of a household, someone who was supposed to look after the family, was dragging them into poverty. There was nothing he could say.

‘There’s something wrong with his head.’

‘Stay away from him if you don’t want to go crazy too.’

He knew that everyone was talking about him behind his back, so Kimura naturally began to avoid people. In order not to meet anyone on the roads, he would go out to his orchards before daybreak, then find his way home when it got dark, after checking that there was no-one left in the fields.

It takes about two hours to walk from Kimura’s house to his orchards near Mount Iwaki. He’d sold the car and the tractor. All he had was a moped he’d bought from a scrap dealer for one thousand yen, and another tractor which had cost him two thousand yen. He’d bought one that wouldn’t start and repaired the engine.

He had his wife and old parents use the worn out moped and tractor. He would walk four hours in the dark to the apple orchards and back every day. This was far better than enduring the cold stares of others. How wonderful it would be to go to an uninhabited island somewhere and grow apples. He even thought how insignificant being troubled with disease and pests was compared to being watched by others.

This was a close-knit community. There was no-one who didn’t know what Kimura was doing, or the distress his family was suffering. The word murahachibu[1] didn’t crop up, but Kimura’s family were getting close to being treated as such. Invites from others of course, and even from relatives, dried up. This wasn’t so surprising either, when you imagine what they must have felt as farmers.

Orchards that are not maintained are known as hōchien or ‘deserted’ orchards. When gossiping about them, local apple farmers would whisper about the ‘hōchien over there’. There was a ring of reproach in those voices, as though they were talking about someone who’d done something immoral. This was because deserted orchards could well be the source of diseases and pests. Neglecting apple trees is a vice of sorts.

Aomori Prefecture has byelaws. Owners of apple orchards who fail to take countermeasures against diseases and pests are liable to fines. Kimura’s orchards, which he hadn’t sprayed with pesticides for five years, were more a wilderness than ‘deserted orchards’, but no-one could claim that Kimura, of all people, had infringed any bye-laws.

He was in his orchards every day, from morning to night, catching insects, and regularly sprayed the apple trees with shōchū and vinegar, although he certainly can’t have thought it would work. He was cutting the grass once a month, so weeds weren’t growing in the orchards. So he wasn’t neglecting diseases and pests; it was just that nothing was working. And this was by far the biggest problem. The fact that he didn’t infringe the bye-laws made matters worse. It meant there were no legal grounds for complaints. However many pesticides you use in apple growing, you’ll always suffer a certain amount of damage from disease and pests. Even today, with advances in pesticides and their universal application, farmers fear the spread of diseases and pests. Ever since the general use of pesticides, a cry for collective control at a regional level to eradicate diseases and pests has been heard on an annual basis. Kimura was seen as turning his back on these efforts by farmers.

This was one more problem with the pesticide-free growing of fruit trees. Not using pesticides drives even more of a wedge between you and those around you in the regional community. Pesticide-free farming may have been Kimura’s dream, but as far as other farmers were concerned it was nothing more than an illusion. From other their point of view, Kimura was ensnared in a selfish fantasy; not only was he turning his orchards into breeding grounds for diseases and pests, he was endangering the surrounding apple orchards. Deserting apple orchards normally happens when, for example, the person who is looking after them in a family dies, or there is a management failure. In Kimura’s case, he was entirely culpable. He was a menace, undeserving of any sympathy. If it had stopped at badmouthing it might not have been too bad, but it was no wonder that some people harboured feelings approaching hate towards Kimura.

These were ordinary people, and their reactions were quite reasonable. Kimura himself was wavering. Tough in front of others, self-doubt gnawed away inside him. Self-doubt would be putting it lightly.
[1] murahachibu is similar to ‘sent to Coventry’ in British English. In Japan it refers to people ostracized by other villagers.
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