Individually wrapped apples hanging on a tree are a familiar sight in the Japanese countryside during the fall. Prized as much for beauty as for taste, a single apple in pristine condition can fetch as much as 1,400 yen ( $17) at an upscale market in Tokyo. More than half of Japanese apples come from Aomori in northern Japan. Japanese farmers and researchers have created over 20 varieties, including the best-selling Fuji apple.

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The Japanese claim to grow some of the world's best apples.

Fuji

The Fuji apple was developed in Aomori prefecture and was introduced to the United Staes in the 1980s. It is a cross between the Red Delicious and Ralls Janet, which are both American strains. Fuji apples are red and can grow very large. They have a crispy texture and a sweet taste that makes them one of the world's favorite apples. The harvest season for Fuji apples extends through late September into October, and they keep well in moderately cool temperatures. Although Japan is a major grower, it shares the claim for top grower with Washington State.

Mutsu

Like the Fuji, the Mutsu apple originated at a research station in Aomori prefecture in the 1930s. It is derived from the Golden Delicious but is greener in color and larger. Mutsu, also known as Crispin, apples are sweet enough to be enjoyed for dessert yet tangy enough for cooking. They ripen in the late fall and keep for over three months. Mutsu apples are suitable for warmer climates and are as likely to be grown in southern parts of Japan as in the north. They have a moderate susceptibility to rust, blight and fungus.

Akane

The Akane strain is also a product of cross-breeding by researchers in Aomori Prefecture in the 1930s, combining the English variety Worcester Pearmain with the classic American heritage variety Jonathan. These apples can be a deep solid red or red streaked with green. They have a sharp sweet taste, making them a good dessert apple, but they do not keep well and must be consumed soon after they are harvested in early autumn. The Akane apple is one of the parents of the Cybele apple, developed in France in the 1990s.

Other Varieties

Like the Mutsu, the Shizuka apple claims the parentage of the Golden Delicious, and the two varieties are very similar. Shizuka is the smaller variety, and it ripens about a week earlier than the Mutsu. It has a softer skin and does not store as well. The Yataka Fuji was mutated from the Fuji apple in 1989, and a further mutation yielded the Daybreak Fuji. It has most of the characteristics of a Fuji apple, including color, taste and texture, but ripens much earlier, providing growers an opportunity to market Fujis early.