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East Japan college to launch country's 1st 'school of strawberries'

A poster recruiting students for a specialized strawberry farming program is seen at the Tochigi Prefectural Government building on July 1, 2020. (Mainichi/Naoto Takeda)

UTSUNOMIYA -- Japan's first "school of strawberries," offering a specialized strawberry farming program to preserve the local specialty, will be launched from the 2021 academic year at a prefectural agricultural college in eastern Japan.

Tochigi Agricultural College is located north of Tokyo in the city of Utsunomiya, Tochigi Prefecture. Gov. Tomikazu Fukuda voiced his hopes for the course by commenting, "Strawberries are the cash cow of the prefecture. I would like for the new program to foster human resources that can distribute Tochigi's strawberries to the world."

A total of 24,900 metric tons of strawberries were produced in Tochigi Prefecture during fiscal 2018, making it Japan's top producer for 51 years in a row. Although Tochigi is famous for its strawberry brand Tochiotome, other local strawberry brands have been created nationwide, such as the southwestern Japan prefecture of Fukuoka's Amaou and the central Japan prefecture of Shizuoka's Beni Hoppe, and producers are competing to develop new brands. However, amid the aging population, strawberry producers are tending to be on the decline. The Tochigi government decided on building a new department that focuses on strawberry farming to recruit members of the younger generation from within and outside the prefecture.

Students will study about basic agriculture knowledge as well as technical skills to grow strawberries and business management in that sector for two years after entering the school. The facility aims to foster future strawberry business owners and also provide students with educational opportunities, such as internships at farms that are large producers.

The number of students in the program will be limited to around 10 people in order to give "meticulous guidance," according to Gov. Fukuda. Applications will be accepted from Oct. 9, and entrance exams will be held on Dec. 6. Requirements for applying include "having a strong ambition to enter the strawberry business management sector." For further inquiries, please call Tochigi Agricultural College at 028-667-0711 (in Japanese).

(Japanese original by Naoto Takeda, Utsunomiya Bureau)

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