We now head more than a thousand miles southeast across the Yellow Sea to Japan, where we could have picked any one of a number of places, from the city of Akita, two hundred and fifty miles north of Tokyo, where akita dogs were first bred, to Kobe, near Osaka, the namesake of world-renowned Kobe beef. Even the name Japan itself has fallen into use in English, both as the name of an especially hard black varnish that originated there, and as a verb meaning ‘to lacquer’ or ‘to cover with black gloss’. But the place we’re interested in is the city of Kagoshima, capital of the Kagoshima region of Japan that occupies the southernmost tip of the southernmost island, Kyushu, of the four main islands of Japan.
Where is Kagoshima, Japan? – Kagoshima, Japan Map – Kagoshima, Japan Map Download Free Photo Gallery
The word we owe to the region around Kagoshima has its origins back on the Asian mainland. Mandarin orange trees, thought to have originated around the city of Wenzhout in eastern China, were brought to Japan more than seven hundred years ago, where they soon thrived in Kyushu’s warm, subtropical climate and fertile volcanic soil. The fruit these trees produced – known as the mikan in its native Japanese – were seedless, smaller and squatter in shape than the ordinary mandarin orange, had softer flesh, and a sweeter, more delicate flavour. As a result they quickly proved popular both in Japan and, from the late eighteenth century onwards at least, overseas.
In the late 1700s, some early cultivars of these Japanese mikan orange trees are believed to have been introduced to the United States by Jesuit missionaries who had served in Japan. Groves were planted at various locations across the southern states, and quickly thrived -but it would be another century before the fruit they produced caught on nationwide.
Ann van Valkenburgh, the wife of Robert van Valkenburgh, a former US diplomatic minister resident to Japan, is popularly credited with reintroducing these oranges to Florida in the late 1870s. Presumably unaware that the fruits had already arrived in the US sometime earlier, Ann renamed them after the district of Kagoshima in which she knew they had originated back in Japan: the newly rechristened satsuma orange had finally arrived in the West.
By this point the satsuma’s geographical namesake had vanished from the map: in 1871, a nationwide reorganisation of the feudal provinces of Japan had seen the ancient province of Satsuma incorporated into a newly formed prefecture, named after the region’s largest city, Kagoshima. Nevertheless the name satsuma remained in use in America, where by the early 1910s more than a million of these Satsuma orange trees had been imported and planted; the belt of orangeries that now began to thrive across the southeast USA were mirrored in a string of newly founded towns named ‘Satsuma’ that sprang up in Florida, Alabama, Louisiana and Texas. Still today, the satsuma remains one of the most popular varieties of orange on the market, even though its geographical connection to Japan has long since disappeared.
Or, in eighteenth-century slang at least, ‘to ordain as a cleric’ – a reference to the ‘black coat’ that japanned wood is covered in.
At the time, Wenzhou was known as Unsyu, a name that is still reflected in the fruit’s Latin name, Citrus unshiu.
The Satsuma Province of Kyushu is also the origin of Satsuma-ware pottery, an especially fine and highly decorated porcelain that became popular in the United States in the 1870s. Its immense popularity at the time undoubtedly helped to reinforce satsuma as the orange’s name of choice the following decade.