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Sweet success: Online melon picking event connects farmers with households across Japan

Tomokatsu Ichimura, a melon farm owner in the city of Hokota, Ibaraki Prefecture, is seen talking with participants in an online melon picking event on June 7, 2020. (Mainichi/Taichi Nemoto)

HOKOTA, Ibaraki -- With many people staying home due to the coronavirus, an online melon picking event was held on June 7 to connect farms in this city northeast of Tokyo with households across Japan.

The project was planned by the Ibaraki Prefectural Government to promote the locally produced fruit, as the prefecture boasts the highest volume of melon production in the country. Participating families experienced a virtual harvesting of melons while listening to farmers' comments through their computers.

Although the prefecture had held events every year at department stores in Tokyo's Ginza district and other places to promote melons produced in Ibaraki, projects for this year were canceled due to the coronavirus outbreak. The idea for the online melon picking gathering, which is a first of its kind held in the country, was proposed while officials considered alternative ways to use extra public relations expenses.

Participants of an online melon picking event organized by the prefectural government of Ibaraki are seen experiencing virtual harvests of melons and other activities through a two-way live streaming service on June 7, 2020. (Mainichi/Taichi Nemoto)

Tomokatsu Ichimura, 44, an owner of a greenhouse that participated in the event, interacted with 10 families from areas including Tokyo and the Kansai region around Osaka in western Japan. He first introduced himself and then took questions from participants, such as "how to pick out melons with higher concentrations of sugar," through a monitor screen.

During the much anticipated "melon picking" time, participants evaluated the quality of the fruit that Ichimura had selected through careful screening and given them number tags beforehand. Participants wrote down on pieces of paper the numbers of the melon of their choice, and showed them to each other. If only one party wished for a certain number, they were able to obtain the melon of their choice. If more than one party placed bids for that item, they competed for the melon through a game of rock-paper-scissors.

There were instances where families that won melons called out, "Sorry," to losing opponents and exchanged smiles, bringing about interaction among participating families.

Sho Okada, 39, based in Tokyo, commented after the event, "We were able to speak with people from faraway places, and it felt as if it were a TV show." Ayumi Imamura, 40, a resident of the Osaka prefectural city of Toyonaka, said excitedly, "It was fun as there are no melon picking locations nearby and we were all able to have a lively time together."

Melon farm owner Ichimura commented, "I was nervous at first because I'm not so good at talking, but it became enjoyable as I started chatting with everyone."

The participation fee for the event was 3,000 yen, and two melons selected by the participants will be sent to the houses of each party at a later date.

(Japanese original by Taichi Nemoto, Kashima Local Bureau)

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