Imperial couple cancel Fukushima peach farm visit due to heavy rain

Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko, currently touring Fukushima Prefecture, cancelled their planned visit Tuesday morning to a peach orchard due to a heavy rain warning issued for the northeastern Japan prefecture.

Instead, the imperial couple met Masahiro Minami, 37, and three other peach farmers from the town of Kori at a hotel in Fukushima City to discuss their struggles with decontamination and reputational damage since the nuclear accident at the Fukushima Daiichi plant triggered by the devastating March 2011 earthquake and tsunami.

The emperor and the empress tasted local peaches with the farmers and offered them encouragement, saying the two expect them to "keep working hard to produce delicious peaches."

Torrential rain prompted evacuations Monday from Kitakata and other areas of the prefecture. The couple decided to cancel their visit to Kori as they thought it would be "inappropriate" to carry out their itinerary when local people were coping with the rain, according to the Imperial Household Agency.

Fukushima Prefecture is a renowned peach-growing area, with Kori supplying its main variety, Akatsuki, to the imperial family every year.

According to the prefectural government, Fukushima peaches had been priced at 439 yen per kilogram before the nuclear disaster, but the price fell to 222 yen in 2011.

Last year the price rebounded to 340 yen per kilogram, but fears of radiation contamination are still expected to affect sales of Fukushima peaches this year.

Until spring last year, farmers employed decontamination methods such as cleaning peach trees with high pressure water and large-scale pruning to ensure the absence of radioactivity.