Bees in Japan

This blog details a day I spent exploring a Japanese apiary, cafe and bee museum.

What holiday is complete without visiting an apiary and learning about how people in another country manage their bees? While in Japan I spent a day exploring Mitsubashi farm, museum and café in western Tokyo.

I arrived at Mitsubashi farm soon after opening time on a Monday early in spring. The weather was kind, it was a sunny day with a top temperature of about 18 degrees, cherry blossoms were blooming early and lots of plants had begun to flower. I was also lucky enough to be the only customer.

The café                                                                    

Shoma - cafe
Inside the cafe. *Photo taken by Shoma the apprentice.

The café was well set up with several different seating options including couches, chairs and stools. There were several stools and tables near the rear windows with views of the beehives outside on the grass. I was able to clearly see the bees flying to and from their hive entrances from the comfort of the café. There were numerous photos of the hives inside the cafe as well as bee related trinkets such as wax in different shapes. There was also a tasting area with quite a few different varieties of honey to try or add to your meal. All the tasting honey signs were written in Japanese, so I randomly tasted three varieties.

The first honey tasted sweet with a hint of floral tones. I later had the caption for this honey translated as “Cherry blossom honey from Tama (the region of Japan where the Mitsubashi farm is located). This honey is harvested from our farm. You will feel a delicate fragrance of cherry blossoms and a rich fruity flavour, so it goes well with yogurt, tea or green tea.”

Mitsubashi - cheery blossom honey
Cherry blossom tasting honey.

I would describe the second honey as tea-like with a bitter after taste. The caption from this honey translated to “Coffee honey from Brazil. You will feel a delicate fragrance of coffee and mild taste. We recommend you have this honey in coffee or milk.”

The final honey I tasted was noticeably darker in colour than the other honey varieties being offered. It was sweet with a slight tang on the tongue at the end of the taste. It was my favourite of the three. This honey caption translated to “Chestnut honey from Tama. This honey is harvested from our farm. You can feel astringency (sharpness or acidity) and the fragrance of chestnut. It is rich in iron.”

The café menu was concise. They offered pancakes or toast with several different toppings such as cheese or fresh strawberries that were at the peak of their season. I opted for the pancakes with cheese and a side of salad. I was impressed with my meal. The cheese was almost a béchamel sauce and not excessively rich. It complimented the pancakes nicely. The salad was crisp and fresh with a light dressing. Learning about Japanese beekeeping methodology was my main goal arriving at Mitsubashi farm. Experiencing an enjoyable meal was a bonus.

The apiary

Mitsubashi - hives in the grass
Japanese hives outside the cafe.

I was fortunate enough to meet Shoma, an apprentice beekeeper who spoke English, as I was finishing my meal. Shoma offered me a tour of the hives behind the café. We passed the honey house and it was setup much the same as honey houses here. There was a workbench with new hives in the making stacked around, wood for new hives poking out of shelves, a large extractor in one of the rooms and several of the hives from the truck waiting to be checked.

There were approximately thirty beehives on the property where the café and museum were located. We stood in front of some hives and watched as bees that returned with pollen pants were checked over by guard bees before being allowed to enter the hives. The warm sunny day ensured the hives were buzzing with activity.

Mitsubashi farm regularly inspected their hives and fed their bees sugar water as required. Interestingly they used a sugar to water ratio of 5:3 all year round. I questioned whether this was used due to their geographical location, a traditional Japanese method or a scientifically proven optimum ratio. Shoma wasn’t sure why this was the ratio used in Japan.

Mitsubashi - Shoma and older worker
Shoma and another beekeeper from Mitsubashi farm.

As Shoma unloaded empty supers we spoke about how the team managed their bees. The team at Mitsubashi farm used wooden hives that were kept at a maximum height of two boxes (one brood and one super). Their apiary setup was simple, cost effective and efficient. The team built their hives using willow wood which is durable and inexpensive. The hives were raised off the ground using repurposed plastic crates. Their roofs were built using corrugated plastic sheets secured with bricks. The hives may have been oiled when they were first built however they were well weathered and had survived in the Japanese elements for many years without additional painting or protection. This made building and maintaining them quicker, cheaper and arguably better for the bees, as they weren’t coated in chemicals. This sort of cost effective operation got me thinking about how we could improve our own apiary set up and management operations to be simpler and more cost effective. Due to the location of their hives their main concern during winter is the humidity. They try to limit the moisture that enters the hives to reduce the risk of disease. Their winters are relatively mild and besides for a sunny position their hives require few if any temperature control measures such as quilts or covers.

My time with Shoma was brief and informative. I hadn’t scheduled a meeting and there was plenty of work to be done since the spring build up was well underway. After I returned home Shoma kindly translated the honey tasting captions mentioned above.

 

The museum

The museum right next door was more of a shop than a museum. There were additional bee related photos, an old extractor and an area for bee demonstrations complete with a wall length enclosure. Unfortunately I wasn’t aware of the bee demonstrations prior to arriving and wasn’t able to time my visit to experience one, however they are conducted on a regular basis. It was easy to lose track of time as I browsed the pictures and all the different products available. Mitsubashi farm stocked a range of honey from Japan and around the world. Countries included Spain, Brazil, Mexico, Argentina and Australia. They also sold bee products including royal jelly honey and wax candles.

Mitsubashi - Australian Jarrah
Jarrah honey for sale in Japan.

Mitsubashi farm sold 100g jars of Australian Jarrah honey for ¥1,620 which at the time of writing equated to approximately $20. You could purchase two 250g jars in a gift box for ¥7,580 which equated to about $95! No that is not a typo, 500g of Australian Jarrah honey would set you back the equivalent of ninety-five Australian dollars. Wow! Lucky we live here and can purchase it for a fraction of the price.

I thoroughly enjoyed my time at Mitsubashi farm, café and museum. I would recommend it as a place to visit if you ever find yourself with a few free hours in Japan and want to experience a rural area of Japan outside the busy Tokyo area and learn about how the Japanese keep bees.

Directions

Take a Japan Rail (JR) train to Musashi-Masuko Station, the second last stop on the Itsukaiichi Line when travelling away from Tokyo. It is an easy, flat, 800m walk from the station to the farm. Exit the station from the left-hand platform when you stand facing the direction the train was travelling. Turn left out of the station building and follow the road until you reach the T-intersection. There was, at the time of writing, a sign to the farm at the intersection with directions. Turn right and then take the first, quick left. Continue on this road for two blocks. The train tracks will be on your left. Turn right after two blocks (if you were to turn left on this street you would be able to cross over the train tracks). Follow this road for a block and a half and Mitsubashi Bee Farm is located on your right.

Opening hours

From 10am until between 4.30pm.

Website

Mitsubashi bee farm http://88838.net/farm-cafe/

Note: I travelled at my own expense to Mitsubashi farm and received no benefits for writing this article.

Thanks for reading, enjoy your journey!

8 Frame Honey
Shoma - honey
Cherry blossom honey. A Japanese specialty. *Photo taken by Shoma the apprentice.

One thought on “Bees in Japan

Add yours

  1. Great article! A nice insight into the running of a Japanese honey farm! 🇯🇵 🐝
    I think you should plant some chestnut trees, as honey #3 sounds amazing! 🍯

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