My “Fukushima Peach Delicious Project” at the Olympics Press Room

The U.S. softball coach Ken Eriksen's comments on how good the Fukushima peaches were and how he had six of them, following the team’s game in Fukushima Prefecture, had garnered a lot of attention.

By Ayako Oikawa

|

#1 My “Fukushima Peach Delicious Project” at the Olympics Press Room

Sharing the peaches with the Canadian Team PR Rep (photo taken by the writer.)

The U.S. softball coach Ken Eriksen’s comments on how good the Fukushima peaches were and how he had six of them, following the team’s game in Fukushima Prefecture, had garnered a lot of attention.

“Fukushima peach is indeed delicious,”
“Thank you for trying them,”
“Six is a lot. I hope you didn’t get a tummy ache.”

Seeing these comments, I couldn’t help tweeting: “I want to try Fukushima peach as well.” That tweet has led to the start of “the Fukushima peach delicious project (coined by me).”

Sending Peaches Not “Salt to the Enemy”

A person working in Fukushima’s track and field event saw my tweet (we’ll call this person A) and offered to send some to me.

“No, no I will buy them,” I said.
“No, no, I will send them,” he responded.

After a very Japanese exchange, I asked if the person could send them to the U.S. softball team, to which they happily acceded.

The U.S. softball team had already left Fukushima and was in Yokohama for the finals against Japan. I contacted the PR rep of the U.S. team letting them know that someone wants to send peaches to the team. Can you check with the director if this is ok? Shortly, they responded with a positive answer. It was so instant I doubted they checked with the coach. They must’ve tried the peaches in Fukushima and found them to be that good.

So A had sent peaches not “salt to the enemies (in reference to a Japanese proverb of fair play).”

That evening, Japan won the finals so the peaches must have tasted bittersweet. But I’m sure the sender’s sincerity was well received.

Later, A contacted me again and asked if he can send another box of peaches to the reporters visiting from overseas.

“No, no, I’ll buy them.”
“No, no.”

After repeating the exchange, I decided to take their kind offer again.

The box of peaches arrived the next day. When I opened it, the sweet scent of the peaches spread across the room. I tried one. It was sweet and juicy. I understood why Coach Eriksen ate six of them. Although the peach was meant for members of the foreign press, I was tempted to eat six myself. There is no way they’ll find out, I thought. After an internal conflict, I put them in a bag and headed for the press room at the Japan National Stadium.

“Are You Sure?”

If they were candies or gum, I can naturally offer them. But if an unfamiliar reporter were to suddenly take a peach out of her bag and offer it to me, I would be surprised, and I might even decline it.

Distributing peaches is a “high hurdle” to overcome.

Why do we say [in Japanese] something is a “high hurdle” to express its degree of difficulty? Hurdles have a fixed height, and they aren’t raised. So, distributing peaches isn’t equivalent to doing a high hurdle but it’s rather like a high jump. But I digress.

If the first person I offer it to declines, I will be heartbroken. Just like the start in the 100-meters-dash is important, selecting the right first person will be crucial.

So I looked around the press room and saw Chinese track reporter Dou. I always see him at European events. He is always smiling and gentle.

He’s the one.

I tried to naturally sit next to him and naturally offer a peach. Dou responded, “Oh, are you sure?” and thanked me for the peach and my kindness. He had no idea he had been my target.

He even took a photo of the peach and uploaded it onto his SNS account. He said the peach looked good and he’ll have it at the hotel. He carefully wrapped it with a towel and put it in his bag. I was lucky to have a good friend.

Why a Foreign Staff Teared Up

Dou’s words encouraged me to go around distributing more peaches to friends and associates who might enjoy them. I felt sorry for the staff and reporters residing here, but since there were limits to the number of peaches, I only distributed them to foreign staff and reporters who are in quarantine and cannot go outside.

When I gave a peach to the Canadian media rep, she teared up. Does she love peaches that much? Fukushima residents would be happy to hear this…But I noticed something was wrong.

A few hours later, she told me quietly that she returns to the hotel close to midnight every night, so she can only buy food at the convenience store, and that she couldn’t even go to a supermarket. That is why the peach made her so happy. She also told me she got leftovers from the stadium’s VIP room (for IOC guests) the night before, and was able to have a salad, which also made her happy.

Feeding leftover food from IOC staff to reporters who are working late? They should be providing proper meals! I felt angry but that’s a story for another time. I was glad the peach made her so happy she cried.

”Better than Georgia Peach”

As sort of return receipts for the peaches, I took photos of the people who received them to upload on SNS. I named them Fukushima peach ambassadors (without their permissions). After distributing them to PR reps and journalists from around the world, there was no more left.

“The Fukushima peaches were very popular.” After tweeting this out, a different Fukushima associate sent us two boxes and a friend in New York bought another box for us. Suddenly I had three boxes of peaches. I was thrilled.

So once again I went around distributing peaches, this time adding the annotation: “They are Fukushima peaches, the same ones as those eaten by the U.S. baseball coach who had six.” The peaches’ special presence and their wonderful scent made everyone smile.

Everyone’s first reactions were always positive: Oh great! Are you sure?

Their reactions after having the peaches were also positive.

The best peach I’ve ever had.
I texted my family and friends about how good the peaches were.
Georgia (in the U.S.) is known for their peaches, but Fukushima ones are tastier.

I’ve known the British PR rep for a long time. She always has a serious expression but when I gave her the peach her face lit up and she smiled. The magnificent power of peach.

A Failed Negotiation With the Kenyan Reporter

I asked a Kenyan reporter to ask his country’s marathon champion Eliud Kipchoge, if he’d share with me his race strategies in exchange for some peaches. “I’ll call and ask,” the reporter responded but he was just being nice. I failed in my negotiation. A few days later Kipchoge won another title. By the way, I learned “peach” in Kenya is called “nyap.” I wonder if it’s true.

I got responses from other foreign press reporters making far-fetched requests to have the peaches delivered to the main press center set up in Tokyo Big Sight. It was also a precious experience to interact with other foreign reporters with whom I had previously no communication.

Peaches Made Everyone Smile

When Tokyo was bidding to host the Olympic and Paralympic Games, the city proposed it as an opportunity to showcase the country’s “recovery and reconstruction” after the 2011 earthquake and tsunami.  However, after the emergence of an unprecedented pandemic, such a manifesto had been forgotten. At the main press center, there is (sort of) a resting area with a sign that says Tohoku Recovery corner, which attracted no attention from the foreign press.

I started the Fukushima peach delicious project for my own satisfaction. The world was filled with negative news (to which I was also contributing), and there weren’t many things to be cheerful about.

Before entering Japan, the members of the press had to submit mountains of documents, and after their entry, they were subject to Covid restrictions. They were already exhausted before the opening ceremony. I wondered if there was anything I could do to lift up their spirits. That’s when peaches arrived.

After uploading the photos of people smiling with the peaches, I received many thank you messages. Peach making people smile, the photos of their smile making more people smile—it makes me happy to see I made a chain of smiles.

Good food makes people happy. I think many people understood why Coach Eriksen could eat six peaches. One American reporter said he could also go for six. I hope he tells people in his country about the peaches.

We distributed four boxes amounting to 64 total peaches. They were Akatsuki and Madoka varieties. Akatsuki is the mainstream peach that is full of scent and juice. Madoka has skin that’s a bit crispy but is juicy and fleshy on the outside.

Thank you to the reporters, PR reps, staff, and volunteers from the U.S., Britain, Italy, Ecuador, China, France, Canada, Kenya, Japan, Brazil, Jamaica, and others for happily taking the peach and enjoying them. Thank you to the farmers who grew the delicious peaches, and those that sent us the peaches. Thank you to my friend from New York.

Lastly, I hope that organizers continue to support sports activities in the Tohoku region affected by the disaster post-Olympics because the region has still not recovered.


#2 Fukushima Peach Project Continued at Paralympic Games

 Comparing the sizes of a Fukushima peach and a softball.

“I’m a Fukushima resident. I cried seeing everyone holding Fukushima peaches and smiling. I wish they could’ve come to Fukushima and had the peaches here. I hope that they become ambassadors by conveying how good our peaches are.”

“I was born in Fukushima and I reside here. You have no idea how much it meant for the farmers of Fukushima to see people from overseas enjoying their peaches. Seeing the photos of people smiling with the peaches made me feel as if the hardships of the last ten years have bore fruit. I felt grateful for the article.”

“Fukushima resident here. I was hurt after the news regarding the South Korean team. We have truly delicious vegetables and fruits. Small children eat the local produce. We are grateful to the farmers here. The article was heart-warming.”

These are some of the comments I received on the article (#1) I wrote post-Olympic games.

Although it was a project I started light-heartedly, there was an unexpected amount of response. I was honestly surprised by the many comments from the people of Fukushima.

It also gave me a glimpse of how much suffering and grief the Fukushima residents have endured in the last 10 years since the earthquake and tsunami. In addition, it has been eight years since Tokyo won the bid for the Olympic Games with the theme “the Recovery and Reconstruction Games.” Fukushima, which suffered massive damages due to the nuclear disaster caused by the tsunami, is a long way off from its recovery––both in the sense of reconstruction and recovery of the hearts and the minds of the people.

News of South Korea Team Avoiding Fukushima Food

Shortly before the start of the Olympic Games, there was news that South Korea’s National Olympic Committee will provide food services for their athletes to avoid meals containing ingredients from Fukushima Prefecture. I was quite shocked to see this.

It’s not uncommon for countries to bring their chefs to the Olympic and Paralympic games provide food the athletes are accustomed to eating. In the past, Japan also set up “Japan House” where they cooked Japanese food to feed their athletes. There were many other countries during this year’s games that brought their chefs to support their athletes, especially during the pre-Games training camps.

The decision by the Korean team must also have been a measure mainly aimed at supporting their athletes’ performances. So why was there a need to make an issue about the safety of ingredients from Fukushima?

It’s not hard to imagine how much the news hurt the people of Fukushima, especially those working in agriculture. According to some news outlets, some domestic traders used the news to ask for price reduction of Fukushima produce.

No matter how hard the people of Fukushima worked, things can easily collapse for them. That’s what the event made me realize.

Moreover, even though the organizers called it the Recovery and Reconstruction Games during the bidding process, many people must have felt uneasy about the lack of support the organizers provided to the disaster regions.

It was then that an American softball coach gave us a ray of sunshine. Coach Ken Eriksen said he ate six peaches in his hotel at Fukushima and that they were delicious. The comment brought joy, especially to those in Fukushima. I’ve heard that people of Fukushima take compliments about their peach as if they were compliments about their own children.

Thus, I started the “Fukushima peach delicious” project on my own but it wasn’t as easy to continue this at the Paralympic games.

I received requests and suggestions to continue my project during the Paralympic games, but I didn’t have a press pass for the event. Part of me thought I created the project during the Olympic games and someone else can take over from there.

That’s when I came across a comment by Japanese Paralympic Committee Chairman Junichi Kawai regarding my project. “I hope we can see this kind of movement at the Paralympics.”

I made up my mind.

If I Can’t Personally Deliver the Peaches, I Can Just Send Them

When I talked with my project “boss” in Fukushima, his colleagues and track coaches contributed to purchasing four boxes of peaches.

If I can’t personally hand the peaches to them, I can just send them.

There were two candidates for receiving the peaches: Canada TV station CBC reporter Devin Heroux and Miki Matsue Matheson, a three-time Paralympic gold medalist at the Nagano games.

Devin was becoming popular on SNS as a big 7-Eleven fan, posting comments like “7-1 1what would I do without you?” He arrived in Japan in mid-July and was reporting on the Olympic and Paralympic Games with a jam-packed superhuman schedule.

He woke up between 4 and 5 in the morning and went to bed past midnight. I had been in contact with him throughout the Olympics but because of scheduling conflicts having to do with his CBC airtime, unfortunately, I couldn’t give it to him in person.

“Do you like peaches? I would like to send peaches from Fukushima to you.”
“Really? Thank you.”

After a few exchanges, I explained the story behind the peaches. The news about South Korea, Coach Eriksen who said they were delicious, and about my “Fukushima Peach Delicious” project.

But I didn’t ask him to post anything on SNS. People have their policies on using SNS. Not to mention, Devin was a reporter. I wouldn’t pressure him to introduce the peaches on SNS. I just hoped the peaches would give him some energy so he can get through his tough schedule.

A few days later, he said he received the peaches and thanked me. He also asked what variation of peaches they were.

Then he posted a video introducing the peaches with the below comment.

“Just getting back to the hotel and receiving this box of Yuuzora peaches from Fukushima.” It even had a hashtag in Japanese the name of my project.

The video was taken up by the Internet news sites and watched 460,000 times.

Comments on the video came from Japan and Canada.

“Fukushima peaches… you’ll be surprised at how delicious it is.”
“Video of taste test?”

I couldn’t find any negative comments.

He also shared what they tasted like and tweeted that he was having his last peach on his way to Narita airport after the Games.

Devin fully understood the significance of Fukushima peaches to the people of Fukushima and took part in the project the best way he can.

jirobkk Shutterstock.com

The other recipient Miki Matsue Matheson had taken part in the project with emotions of her own.

Miki carried the flag during the Paralympics opening ceremony and took part in the closing ceremony as a member of the I’mPOSSIBLE education program. Like Devin, she lives in Canada and came to Japan during the games. She also had a packed schedule providing administrative support and cheering the teams at the venues.

I worried that she might not have time to receive and distribute peaches.

However, when I asked, she responded straight away: “I will make sure to distribute them!”

Three boxes of peaches are quite a lot and heavy too. I wondered if she will be ok, as she is in a wheelchair. But she is physically strong so it should be ok, I thought.

As soon as the peaches arrived, Miki handed them out to the doctors and staff who cared for the athletes at the polyclinic.

She posted a comment on SNS with a photo of herself and a peach. She expressed surprise about the size of the peach and wrote “I can definitely also go for six.” I told her it’s best to wait a few days for the fruits to ripe, but she wrote “I can’t wait for tomorrow,” and “I want to have two.”

I wanted the people who took care of the athletes to enjoy two or three or even six.

You Are the Peach Girl

There was a reason why Miki so willingly took on the role as a peach ambassador for the Fukushima Peach Delicious project at the Paralympics.

“My parasports debut was at the national athletic meet at Utsukushishima, Fukushima Prefecture. That’s why I have a special feeling towards Fukushima. I have a Miharu-Goma toy horse displayed on my desk. Miharu is a folk art in the prefecture, and I bought it when I was there for the tournament. The name Miharu (three springs) is said to come from a reference to plum, peach, and cherry blossoms blooming at once during spring. I bought it hoping there will be three great things coming to me through sports. I was hoping there was something I could do for the people of Fukushima.”

I was glad to have asked Miki. By the way, people who received the peaches gave her a nickname, “peach girl.” I’m sure her sincerity has reached the people of Fukushima.

Although she said she could go for six, she didn’t have the chance to try this time. “Next time I would like to buy a whole box and eat to my heart’s content,” she said. I hope she comes back next year to try.

Although Tokyo 2020 has closed, the recovery and reconstruction are still far off.

Fukushima peach had made lots of people happy during the games, bringing us together. I hope that the circle of smiles will continue to expand.

Recommended Contents

Recommend contents