HIROSAKI, Japan >> The Fujisaki schoolhouse of the Hirosaki Vocational High School, home to Japan’s only “Department of Apples,” is closing at the end of the school year.
Before the curtain falls on 71 years of history, students at the school in Fujisaki, Aomori Prefecture, are trying to develop and register a new apple variety.
The Fujisaki schoolhouse opened in 1948 and its apple department was founded in 1972. The department has graduated about 2,300 students who have gone on to play important roles in regional agriculture.
The apple department is the schoolhouse’s only remaining department. The final class of 12 third-year students said they want to leave their mark on history.
Fujisaki, where the Fuji-brand apple originated, still plays an important role in Aomori Prefecture’s designation as the nation’s largest producer of Fuji apples.
Teachers at the Fujisaki schoolhouse, which is a branch school of the high school, use handmade textbooks in apple department classes and conduct practical lessons in the 5.7-acre orchard where students care for trees.
In 2012, it was decided that due to the low attendance caused by the low birthrate, the school would close at the end of the 2018 school year.
Last April, local apple grower Masafumi Ota, 63, noticed that, due to a mutation, some of his Fuji trees began producing apples with a beautiful sheen.
He approached the students about cultivating the apple and selling it nationwide as a new variety, characterized by deep-red skin and a good balance of sweet and sour flavor. He hopes by creating an apple variety, people will remember the school long after it has closed.
They named the new variety Fujikosha — “Fuji” from the town’s name combined with “kosha” to refer to the skill of apple growers.
In January, they applied to register the variety with the Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Ministry.
Students are collecting data for the registration process on the fruit’s weight, sugar content, acid level and other factors in Ota’s orchard.
Official registration is expected to take three years. After the department closes, Ota and some graduates plan to continue the work.
“As the last students, we want to do our part to make sure Fujikosha are eaten nationwide,” said third-year student Hiroki Fujita, 17.
“Fujikosha are raised with love. We want to commemorate the history of a school that was the fruit of the hopes and labor of people working with apples,” Ota said.