Meet the Rocker Composing Award-Winning Olive Oil in Japan

Keisuke Maeda went from winning awards with his rock band to producing world-class extra virgin olive oil.
Maedaya Olive marked its eleventh anniversary with its debut World Competition award for a Mission monovarietal. (Photo: Maedaya Olive)
By Paolo DeAndreis
Apr. 22, 2024 23:43 UTC

The bass gui­tarist of a pop­u­lar Japanese rock band has also become one of the country’s pre­em­i­nent olive oil pro­duc­ers.

Keisuke Maeda, one of the three found­ing mem­bers of Remioromen and founder of Maedaya Olive, recently cel­e­brated win­ning a Gold Award at the 2024 NYIOOC World Olive Oil Competition.

Founded in 2000, Remioromen has been among the best-sell­ing rock groups in Japan and won the Best Pop Video Award at the 2006 MTV Video Music Awards.

After the group dis­banded in 2012, Maeda started his sec­ond act as an olive farmer. Eleven years later, he cel­e­brated the fruits of his labor with a World Olive Oil Competition award for a medium-inten­sity Mission. We are thrilled by this win,” Maeda told Olive Oil Times.

See Also:Producer Profiles

He cul­ti­vates about 500 olive trees on his farm near Fuefuki, in the chal­leng­ing cli­mate of the Yamanashi Prefecture in cen­tral Japan, close to sev­eral national parks and Mount Fuji.

By par­tic­i­pat­ing in the NYIOOC, we wanted the best olive oil tasters in the world to eval­u­ate our prod­uct,” Maeda said. We needed them to assess the type of olive oil our farm pro­duces so we could under­stand the qual­ity we have reached.”

In 2013, after exten­sive research and sev­eral trips to olive oil-pro­duc­ing regions in Italy and Greece, Maeda estab­lished his first grove, com­posed of about 100 olive trees. In 2016, he pro­duced his first batch of extra vir­gin olive oil.


Keisuke Maeda co-founded Japanese rock band Remioromen in 2000 (Photo: Maedaya Olive)

Over time, the orig­i­nal grove has expanded to include many more trees. At first, I planted Mission and Koroneiki vari­eties to act as pol­li­nat­ing trees,” Maeda said. I selected them as they have a long story of cul­ti­va­tion in Japan and after con­sult­ing with Sorai Farm in Shodoshima.”

Situated on Shodo island in south­ern Japan, Shodoshima fea­tures a Mediterranean-like cli­mate. The island and sur­round­ing coast on the Japanese main­land are home to most olive oil pro­duc­ers.

Today, our pri­mary cul­ti­vars include Arbequina, Frantoio, Bianchera and Santa Caterina,” Maeda said. It is amaz­ing that cul­ti­vars that grow beau­ti­fully in regions that are, on aver­age, way warmer than Yamanashi also grow so well in our orchards.”

Since the begin­ning, extreme tem­per­a­tures have been Maeda’s main chal­lenge, with the mer­cury falling to –10 ºC dur­ing the win­ter and sum­mer tem­per­a­tures soar­ing up to 40 ºC.

The year the seedlings are planted demands utmost atten­tion,” he said. During the first three win­ters, we wrap them in straw to pro­tect them from cold and dry weather.”

As trees grow, the effects of cold weather decrease,” Maeda added. But the effects of cold are not zero. The sum­mer heat is not a prob­lem so far. But like many other pro­duc­ers around the world, we are keep­ing a close eye on the effects of global warm­ing.”


Maeda plans to expand his 500-tree olive grove, experimenting with new olive varieties in the central Japanese region of Fuefuki. (Photo: Maedaya Olive)

The orchard’s expan­sion will prob­a­bly con­tinue. We are still work­ing to research and select cul­ti­vars,” he said. Yamanashi has a short his­tory of olive cul­ti­va­tion, so I believe there is space to find more cul­ti­vars suit­able for our region.”

Maeda also pointed out that he tends to the olive trees. This means I must con­sider the size of the grove,” he said. I am cau­tious about expand­ing too quickly as main­tain­ing the high qual­ity of our olive oil is my pri­or­ity.”

During har­vest, friends and fam­ily help Maeda hand­pick his olives and trans­form them into mono­va­ri­etals and blends.


The sea­son that brought to the Gold Award-win­ning Mission mono­va­ri­etal was good for the Japanese pro­ducer.

Compared to the year before, the cam­paign was char­ac­ter­ized by good weather for olive cul­ti­va­tion in Yamanashi,” Maeda said. We had fewer typhoons and lit­tle rain­fall, with more long sun­shine hours.”

That also means that good-qual­ity olive fruits were grown,” he added. The results of the eval­u­a­tions at the NYIOOC pro­vide impor­tant mes­sages and mean­ings, such as under­stand­ing the posi­tion of the oil I pro­duce, guid­ing prin­ci­ples for future olive cul­ti­va­tion and olive oil pro­duc­tion and a recon­fir­ma­tion of my work so far.”


Maeda believes his NYIOOC achievement will help raise the profile of Japanese extra virgin olive oil at home and pave the way for exports. (Photo: Maedaya Olive)

TAE, a local artist, draws Maedaya’s labels. She drew the leaf labels for our olive oil bot­tles,” he said. Then, I com­mis­sioned her to draw the ori­gin of all life for our web­site. And there, birds, tur­tles, and plants gather around the skele­ton of an umbrella. It expresses the impor­tance of water.”

Maeda also man­ages the farm’s olive mill. Our olive oil is del­i­cate; it has a good bal­ance of bit­ter­ness and spici­ness, and it bears the nat­ural sweet aroma of plants,” he said.

According to Maeda, cli­mate change will be the most rel­e­vant chal­lenge for high-qual­ity olive oil pro­duc­ers in Japan in the long term.

Yamanashi is the largest pro­ducer of peaches and grapes in Japan and the birth­place of Japanese wine,” he said. Therefore, all fruit farm­ers in Yamanashi have begun efforts to find coun­ter­mea­sures against dam­age from high tem­per­a­tures and sus­tain­able agri­cul­tural pro­duc­tion. We need to do the same for olives.”

At the moment, Maedaya Olive does not export olive oil, but Maeda hopes to change this as he expands slowly but steadily.

I would love that, as I would love peo­ple from all over the world to expe­ri­ence Maedaya’s olive oil, fla­vored by the nuances of the unique Yamanashi ter­roir, at least once in their lives,” he said.

Still, Maeda believes that the pop­u­lar­ity of olive oil in Japan is increas­ing. Nowadays, more Japanese are health-con­scious and are dis­cov­er­ing that high-qual­ity extra vir­gin olive oil is not only healthy but also deli­cious,” he con­cluded.


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