How an Experimental Farm in Japan Gave Rise to Award-Winning Olive Oil

What started as a land restoration project has transformed into an award-winning extra virgin olive oil-producing operation on the southern Japanese island of Kyushu.

By Paolo DeAndreis
Aug. 10, 2023 15:38 UTC

A land restora­tion project lies behind one of Japan’s best extra vir­gin olive oils.

Kunisaki QLiVE Garden, located on Kyushu, one of the south­ern­most of Japan’s main islands, earned a Silver Award at the 2023 NYIOOC World Olive Oil Competition.

Kyushu is well known for its green moun­tain­ous land­scape, hot springs, Japan’s most active vol­canos, and its mild cli­mate. On the north­ern Kunisaki penin­sula, in the Oita pre­fec­ture, olive farm­ing gained momen­tum in the last 10 years.

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Kunisaki city faces the Setonai Sea. It is a warm area with lots of sun­shine,” Takahiro Ohno, gen­eral man­ager of the olive busi­ness pro­mo­tion office of the local Kyusetsu AQUA Corporation, told Olive Oil Times.

The cli­mate here is mostly sim­i­lar to the Mediterranean, mak­ing it suit­able for olive cul­ti­va­tion,” he added.

The project began in 2016 as an ini­tia­tive of Ohno’s com­pany, a waste man­age­ment firm oper­at­ing in a neigh­bor­ing pre­fec­ture.

The com­pany main­tains and man­ages water and sewage sys­tems. To con­tribute to the local com­mu­nity, it decided to ven­ture into agri­cul­ture in Kunisaki,” Ohno said. At the time, thou­sands of olive saplings were planted on an area of approx­i­mately 15 hectares.”


The project was named after its land and com­mu­nity restora­tion goals. The QLiVE name was cre­ated by apply­ing a q’ to the word olive so that it could stand for live’ in good qual­ity,” Ohno said.

In the fol­low­ing years, the grow­ing inter­est in extra vir­gin olive oil and the expe­ri­ence devel­oped by the company’s staff allowed for a fur­ther expan­sion of the groves.

Today, Kunisaki’s approx­i­mately 4,000 olive trees cover 38 hectares, which the com­pany said makes it the largest olive farm in Japan.

QLiVE’s win­ning olive oil at the NYIOOC was its Yumeshizuku blend, which the panel of judges said had the tast­ing sen­sa­tion of herbs, chicory, cin­na­mon and ripe notes.

It is an extra vir­gin olive oil char­ac­ter­ized by very low acid­ity, which does not reach 0.1 per­cent,” Ohno added. Its qual­i­ties come from blend­ing the olives of cul­ti­vars of Italian and Spanish ori­gin. The key to its fla­vors is the per­fect bal­ance of its bit­ter and spicy notes.”

Frantoio, Leccino, Pendolino, Nevadillo and Manzanillo are among the many olive vari­eties grown on the farm for oil pro­duc­tion. Meanwhile, two Italian vari­eties, Taggiasca and Santa Caterina, are pri­mar­ily ded­i­cated to pro­duc­ing table olives.


The com­pany can pro­duce dif­fer­ent extra vir­gin olive oil blends from the same vari­eties by chang­ing the har­vest time. For exam­ple, Yumeshizuku Hayazumi is a robust extra vir­gin olive oil made from early-har­vest olives.

The com­pany also pro­duces Cleave oil, which blends wheat extracts with olive oil made with Italian vari­eties, as well as fla­vored oils made by knead­ing Italian olives and fruits together,” Ohno under­lined.

Along with extra vir­gin olive oil and other blended oils, the com­pany also pro­duces olive leaf pow­der and olive-based skin­care prod­ucts.


Like in other olive-grow­ing regions of Japan, cop­ing with high lev­els of rain­fall is one of the chal­lenges Kunisaki QLiVE Garden faces.

Abundant pre­cip­i­ta­tion dur­ing Japan’s mon­soon sea­son often inter­rupts the har­vest, while extreme weather events occa­sion­ally cre­ate sig­nif­i­cant obsta­cles.

Last year, about 800 trees fell due to typhoon dam­age. Recently, there has been a lot of rain and wind,” Ohno said.

In Oita pre­fec­ture, sig­nif­i­cant amounts of rain­fall are tra­di­tion­ally reported between April and October. In months such as June, rain­fall can exceed 350 mil­lime­ters.

By com­par­i­son, aver­age pre­cip­i­ta­tion barely exceeds 50 mil­lime­ters at the same time of year in Jaén, Spain, the world’s largest olive oil-pro­duc­ing region.

To secure the best pos­si­ble out­come in olive grow­ing, our cul­ti­va­tion staff reg­u­larly attends tech­ni­cal train­ing ses­sions,” Ohno said.

He added how the farm fol­lows best prac­tices to take care of the trees, includ­ing con­stant efforts to reduce the amount of pes­ti­cides and her­bi­cides used.

We also research prun­ing tech­niques,” said Ohno, hint­ing at the bet­ter results in terms of pro­duc­tion and health of the trees that derive from con­stantly upgrad­ing the prun­ing oper­a­tions.

The farm’s staff rou­tinely vis­its farms that are engaged in advanced cul­ti­va­tion projects so that they can con­stantly improve their knowl­edge about the lat­est cul­ti­va­tion tech­niques,” Ohno said.

Another chal­lenge the com­pany expe­ri­ences is the short­age of work­ers. Given the loca­tion, which is not easy to access, it is dif­fi­cult to secure a labor force,” Ohno said.

Along with fol­low­ing best prac­tices on the farm, Ohno said the company’s mod­ern mill plays a sig­nif­i­cant role in its abil­ity to pro­duce high-qual­ity extra vir­gin olive oil.


Such machin­ery allows us to process the olives within a max­i­mum of 12 hours of har­vest­ing, which is also one of the rea­sons high-qual­ity ensues as well as the low­est degree of oxi­da­tion,” he said.

Our olives are hand-picked, and fruits are sorted one by one, as only the good ones are iden­ti­fied and des­tined for our extra vir­gin olive oil pro­duc­tion,” Ohno added.

Kunisaki QLiVE Garden is also actively engaged in spread­ing a cul­ture of olive oil qual­ity among Japanese con­sumers.

What we see hap­pen­ing many times is that con­sumers tend to com­pare domes­tic high-qual­ity extra vir­gin olive oils to cheaper and lower qual­ity olive oils imported from abroad,” Ohno said.

The price fac­tor comes into play for many con­sumers, at least until they are tempted by a tast­ing ses­sion.

It all changes with tast­ing,” he said. When I ask cus­tomers to taste our olive oils, they are sur­prised at how deli­cious those are.”

Ohno com­bines the tast­ing expe­ri­ence with explain­ing olive oil’s health ben­e­fits and organolep­tic qual­i­ties. “[Then] they are con­vinced and buy it,” he said.

We do reach out to the con­sumers in all kinds of use­ful pub­lic events so that we can explain the dif­fer­ences among the grades of olive oil,” Ohno added.

Customers who become intrigued by olive oil and how it is pro­duced some­times come to our farm to visit us,” Ohno explained, hint­ing at the goal of the com­pany to open an olive tourist farm within the next five years.

Our vis­i­tors are amazed by the size of our farm and by the view of the ocean in the dis­tance,” he con­cluded.

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