Avocados are a popular fruit around the world, known for their creamy texture and high amounts of healthy fats. Japan imports most of its avocados from Mexico, Chile, and the United States. However, there has been increasing interest in growing avocados domestically in Japan.
Can avocados be grown in Japan? Yes, it is possible to grow avocados in certain parts of Japan, especially southwest Japan. However, it can be challenging due to Japan’s climate. Avocados require subtropical or Mediterranean climates with warm temperatures year-round. Much of Japan has cold winters not suitable for avocado trees. Using greenhouses and other protective measures can help make avocado cultivation possible in some Japanese regions.
What climate is best for growing avocados? Avocados grow best in subtropical or Mediterranean climates with warm temperatures year-round, generally frost-free. They require steady temperatures between 60-85°F.
Why is climate an issue for growing avocados in Japan? Japan has a varied climate but is generally too cold in winter for most avocado varieties, with average winter temperatures around 41°F in Tokyo. Cold snaps can damage or kill avocado trees.
Challenges of Growing Avocados in Japan
Avocados evolved in tropical regions and are well-adapted to warm, humid conditions year-round. Japan’s climate poses some key challenges:
One of the biggest obstacles to growing avocados in Japan is the country’s generally cool to cold winter temperatures. While southern Japan has a subtropical climate, most of the country has average winter temperatures far too cold for avocado trees.
For example, Tokyo’s average winter temperature is 41°F (5°C), with lows around 32°F (0°C). Most avocado varieties cannot tolerate consistent temperatures below 45°F (7°C). Prolonged exposure to freezing temperatures can damage or kill the trees.
Only certain cold-hardy avocado varieties, like the Mexican race avocados, can survive brief exposure to temperatures just below freezing. But most types would require protection during Japanese winters.
Avocados thrive on steady, warm temperatures year-round. Japan can experience wide temperature swings between day and night, as well as sudden cold snaps. These fluctuations stress avocado trees and make them more vulnerable to health problems.
Providing shelter, windbreaks, and other temperature moderation methods could help compensate for Japan’s variable climate. But this requires added effort and expense for growers.
Humidity and Rainfall
Avocados favor relatively high humidity. Japan has periods of low rainfall which can make humidity levels suboptimal for avocado growth, especially on the Pacific coast and during winter.
Supplemental irrigation could help provide moisture during drier times. Some avocado varieties also fare better with lower humidity than others.
The typhoons that frequently strike Japan bring intense winds and rains that could damage avocado orchards. The trees are shallow-rooted and less wind-resistant than other fruit trees. Protective structures may be needed in typhoon-prone areas.
Few Ideal Growing Regions
Considering all these climatic factors, only certain parts of southern Japan provide suitable conditions for avocados without significant protective measures.
Regions like Okinawa and Kyushu have warmer average winter temperatures and subtropical influence to support avocado growth. But much of Japan remains marginally cold in winter for avocados to thrive.
This geographic limitation makes large-scale commercial avocado production impractical for most of Japan without using greenhouses or similar systems.
Potential for Avocado Growth in Japan
Despite the challenges, there are promising signs that avocado cultivation could take root in Japan on a small but meaningful scale:
As Japanese consumers have become more health-conscious and interested in western foods, demand for avocados has risen dramatically. Japan is the 2nd largest importer of avocados globally. Domestic production could provide fresher local avocados to meet this growing market.
Advances in greenhouse design and materials are making it more feasible to modify conditions for avocado growth in Japan’s climate. New greenhouse films can selectively transmit certain wavelengths of light and provide insulation while allowing airflow. Monitoring and control systems help maintain optimal temperature, humidity, irrigation, and nutrition levels. With a controlled greenhouse environment, avocado trees can thrive in cold regions.
Heat Tolerant Varieties
There are over 900 varieties of avocados with differing climate needs. Researchers have identified some cold and heat tolerant varieties that could adapt better to Japan’s conditions, such as Greenskin and Fuerte avocados. The right cultivar selection is critical for success.
Protected Geographical Indications
In 2018, Japan established Protected Geographical Indication certifications for avocados from locations like Nichinan, Miyazaki with suitable climates. This reflects an interest in establishing avocado production in areas where it is most viable. Targeting specific southern regions may be the most practical approach in Japan.
Japan’s government has programs to support greenhouse development and agriculture innovation. These initiatives could help make domestic avocado production more feasible by offsetting growers’ costs and risks. Government agencies are also funding research into optimal avocado cultivation methods for Japan’s environment.
Prior Success Cases
There have been small but promising successes in growing avocados outdoors and in greenhouses in Japan’s milder regions. One example is an avocado orchard in Tarumizu, Kagoshima which has produced fruit for over 25 years. These cases demonstrate that Japanese-grown avocados can become a reality with the right conditions.
Where Avocados Could Grow in Japan
Certain Japanese regions show the most potential for supporting avocado growth based on climate:
Okinawa offers Japan’s warmest winter temperatures due to its subtropical islands. The average winter temperature is 60°F (15°C), within avocados’ ideal range. Okinawa also has humidity around 70% favorable to avocados. The main downside is typhoon risk requiring protection measures. But otherwise, Okinawa provides suitable tropical conditions for avocados.
Areas of Kyushu, especially along the southwestern coasts, benefit from Pacific warming and have mild enough winters for cold-hardy avocado varieties. Miyazaki and Kagoshima prefectures have successfully cultivated avocados and received PGI certifications for their production. Average winter temperatures around 53°F (12°C) are cool but tolerable for some avocado types with protection from wind and frost.
Shikoku’s Pacific side has moderate year-round temperatures with warmer winters than Japan’s interior. Kochi and Tokushima prefectures could support cold-tolerant avocado varieties. Extended cold spells remain a risk factor requiring greenhouse or shelter technologies. But conditions are favorable relative to other parts of mainland Japan.
The southern parts of Japan’s largest island of Honshu, along the Pacific side, offer the next most suitable climate for potential avocado growing. Regions like Wakayama and Mie prefectures have mild enough winter temperatures to attempt avocado growth, especially with greenhouse supplementation. The conditions become progressively more challenging further north and inland.
Western Honshu & Shikoku
Transitional zones on Honshu’s western and northern sides, such as Yamaguchi and Shimane prefectures, may reach the lower limit for avocado cultivation. They lack the warming effects of the Pacific but benefit slightly from the Shimonoseki Strait. Hardy varieties could scrape by here with very protective structures. But the odds of economic success are low.
|Region||Average Winter Temperature||Suitability for Avocados|
|Okinawa||60°F / 15°C||High|
|Kyushu||53°F / 12°C||Moderate|
|Shikoku||50°F / 10°C||Marginal|
|Southern Honshu||45°F / 7°C||Low|
|Western Honshu & Shikoku||41°F / 5°C||Very Low|
Greenhouse Cultivation Methods
One of the most practical ways to grow avocados in Japan’s climate is by using protected greenhouse environments. Here are some effective techniques:
Choosing a Suitable Greenhouse Design
Greenhouses come in many types, but gutter-connected and freestanding greenhouse structures tend to be best suited for avocado trees. Optimal designs have sloped roofs, open ventilation, and materials like polycarbonate that maximize light transmission.
Heating and temperature control systems are essential in greenhouses for avocado production in Japan. This could involve propane/gas heaters, hot water piping, and climate computer systems to maintain ideal temperatures. Back-up power systems ensure continuous operation.
Insulating the greenhouse with thermal blankets, polyethylene film, or bubble wrap helps retain heat and protect trees from cold. Insulation can reduce heating costs and prevent damage during cold weather.
Air Circulation Fans
Fans promote air movement which supports growth and prevents excessive moisture that can lead to fungal diseases. Horizontal airflow fans are often used in avocado greenhouses.
Drip irrigation systems with automatic timers and moisture sensors optimize water delivery based on plant needs. Avocados require well-drained soil without overwatering. Careful irrigation management prevents disease.
Providing artificial grow lights compensates for weaker sunlight during cloudy weather or winter. High-pressure sodium lamps or LED grow lights deter avocado trees from going dormant.
Testing soil and leaf tissues informs nutrient programs to tailor fertilizer type and dosage for optimal avocado health and productivity. This avoids over or under-fertilization.
Strategic pruning of avocado trees controls size and shape, improves air circulation and light penetration, and removes diseased wood to encourage growth in Japan’s constrained greenhouse spaces.
Outdoor Cultivation Methods
Growing avocados outdoors in Japan’s milder regions may be possible using these cultivation strategies:
Windbreaks, shade screens, and horticultural fabrics protect trees from wind, cold winter temperatures, and scorching heat. Fanjets can blow warm air over trees during cold spells.
Grafting avocado scions onto hardy rootstocks like Mexican race avocados improves cold tolerance for Japanese growing conditions.
Cold Tolerant Varieties
Selecting varieties capable of handling cooler winters like ‘Bacon’, ‘Zutano’, ‘Fuerte’, and ‘Hass’ improves survival odds. Avoid varieties prone to cold damage.
Planting in full sun orientations enhances growth and fruiting. Avoid shaded areas which keep trees too cool.
Avocados need consistently moist but very well-draining soil to prevent root rot. Adding organic matter and sand improves drainage.
Constructing physical barriers blocks cold winds and reduces desiccation. This protects trees from wind damage and winter dieback.
Low plastic tunnels, cloches, and row covers retain heat and allow earlier spring planting and later fall harvests. This lengthens the avocado growing period in Japan’s shorter growing season.
During cold snaps, heaters, frost fans, sprinkler irrigation, and other measures prevent frost accumulation on foliage. But this may not be cost-effective for large orchards.
Careful pruning removes cold damaged branches, shapes trees for sun exposure, and stimulates new growth. This helps overwinter trees and maximize productivity.
Recommended Avocado Varieties for Japan
The optimal avocado varieties for Japan’s conditions include:
This Mexican variety tolerates cold better than other types. Its green skin turns purple-black when ripe. The smooth, nutty flesh has about 20% oil content. Fuerte survives brief temperatures down to 26°F (-3°C).
Developed in California, Bacon withstands cold, frost, and wind. It has glossy green skin and creamy texture with 18% oil. Bacon can tolerate winter temperatures down to 24°F (-4°C).
The classic Hass avocado is preferred for its rich, nutty flavor and high oil content. It withstands some frost but is less cold hardy than Fuertes. Protected cultivation can make Hass successful in Japan’s milder regions.
A Mexican-Guatemalan hybrid, Zutano has shiny yellow-green skin and light, low-oil flesh. It tolerates cold and grows well near the ocean. Zutano withstands winter lows around 30°F (-1°C).
This green-skinned variety has flavorful, oily flesh. Gwen needs warm winters but tolerates humidity well. With protection, it could grow in parts of southern Japan.
A Guatemalan hybrid, Maluma Hass bears high-quality fruit like its Hass parent but with greater cold tolerance. It’s suitable for subtropical Japan locales.
The Mexicola avocado withstands cold to 15°F (-9°C). It has smooth, thin, dark purple-black skin when ripe. The flesh is watery but rich-flavored. Mexicola may be one of the best varieties for outdoor Japanese growing.
This green-skinned, Guatemalan variety tolerates some frost with large, creamy fruits. Nabal needs heat but could grow in protected areas of Japan with warm summers.
|Fuerte||Mexico||Down to 26°F / -3°C|
|Bacon||California||Down to 24°F / -4°C|
|Hass||California||Light frost only|
|Zutano||Mexico-Guatemala||Down to 30°F / -1°C|
|Mexicola||Mexico||Down to 15°F / -9°C|
Growing avocados in Japan poses challenges due to unsuitable climate conditions in many regions. However, certain areas of southern Japan, like Okinawa and Kyushu, demonstrate potential for small-scale commercial avocado production, especially with protected greenhouse cultivation. Additional winter insulation and heating can make avocado cultivation possible in the country’s cooler locations as well.
With a warming climate, use of cold-hardy avocado varieties, advanced greenhouse technologies, and proper horticultural techniques, Japan could realistically expand domestic avocado production. But extensive inputs and protective structures may be required in all but the warmest locales. By targeting specific regions and leveraging greenhouse systems, Japan could sustainably grow avocados to meet some consumer demand.