Honey Business Kodo Bee Farm
Children in Japan love bugs. Pairs of kids running around neighborhoods with insect nets and clear plastic boxes hanging around their necks is not an uncommon sight each summer. Growing up in Kumamoto, Akinori Kai was no different. What sets him apart is he turned his passion for bugs into a buzzing business—the Kodo Bee Farm in Tokushima.
The Yoshinogawa flows deep through the mountains in Tokushima Prefecture, meandering through small towns and rice fields and squeezing through beautiful gorges. The river finally reaches the sea where nearby beaches famously attract surfers. It’s a beautiful natural environment and a place where traditions such as indigo tie dye fabrics and awa dancing in summer can still be found.
Akinori Kai spent a lot of time outdoors growing up in Kyushu. When he graduated from university he worked at a sporting goods store for a year and a half, but realized he wanted to be in the outdoors, not working in a shop.
“I really love all kinds of insects so after I quit the sports shop, I looked for a job related to insects. My first option was a silkworm farm, but business didn’t seem very good so I started to learn about beekeeping,” he says.
Aki found a job with a large beekeeping company in his hometown in Kumamoto. He worked there for a year and then did beekeeping in Hokkaido for four months before setting up his own apiary in Tokushima: Kodo Bee Farm.
Every year the Yoshinogawa spills over into the low fields creating rich soil and spreading wild flower seeds. Honeybees thrive in this environment.
“The floods can also destroy the beehives so I must move mine from the riverside to the mountains before flood season each year. The river is a risk and reward for me and other farmers—like the Nile River in ancient Egypt. It’s an unpredictable and beautiful natural place,” he says.
He studied English in the Philippines to prepare himself for travels abroad to do research and learn new beekeeping techniques. “Malaysian and Russian beekeeping was particularly interesting,” he says. “I need to go again.”
He’s also found a way to bring the world to him in Tokushima where he regularly hosts volunteers who come to learn about beekeeping and help out with the easier tasks like harvesting honey. It’s also important to check inside of the hives and make sure the queen bee is healthy so colonies are growing.
“Visitors seem to enjoy their time here because beekeeping is such an unusual thing for most of them,” he says.
Kodo Bee Farm keeps more than 150 colonies of European honey bees in Tokushima, which he manages by himself and with two or more volunteers. The main job is taking care of all the bee colonies that produce the honey, which he sells at about 60 supermarkets, mainly in Osaka.
“One bee colony contains around 10,000 worker bees, and I have more than 150 colonies. So I’ve got about 1,500,000 workers. Sounds like a big company, don’t you think?” he jokes.
While it sounds like a lot of bees, many farmers in Japan want to buy bee colonies, but there simply aren’t enough on the market. Demand is much larger than supply right now.
Kodo’s European bees are Italian. Most beekeepers around the world favor Italian bees because they are great at producing honey. When working with the bees he usually wears a jumpsuit and net, which protects his head. Nearly all beekeepers also wear gloves to avoid getting stung on their hands, but Aki chooses to forgo the protection.
“I work faster barehanded,” he states. “Yes, I usually get stung more than 10 times each day, but it doesn’t bother me anymore. It’s my job.”
It took a while for him to get used to the stings. When he first started, his hands swelled up like balloons each day. His co-workers at his first beekeeping company required him to keep working even when his hands hurt. This was difficult for a novice he remembers, but the experience made him a tougher beekeeper.
“Kodo” (黄道) means ‘ecliptic.’ Bees are constantly locating the sun in relation to the ecliptic plane to determine the direction to the flower fields, and they share the information with other worker bees.
“It is amazing these small insects have such an advanced brain and communication system. I was so impressed by this, I named my business Kodo Bee Farm,” he says.
Bees are incredibly important to the health of local ecosystems. Strawberries, tomatoes, melon and many other fruits and vegetables rely on pollination to grow. Flowers and plants naturally increase in local environments where bee colonies are present. And it doesn’t hurt to have access to fresh, delicious honey.
Tokushima has many hidden gems for active travelers. There’s great hiking on Mt. Tsurugi, whitewater rafting on the Yoshinogawa and cycling and motorcycling in the Iya Valley. Kodo Bee Farm is helping add to the natural beauty of the area and travelers interested in learning about bee farming can contact Aki by e-mail, through Kodo Bee Farm’s Facebook page or visit his Workaway page to volunteer. May, June, September and October are the busy seasons for harvesting honey.
Honey Business Kodo Bee Farm