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Interview A dream come true in Hiroshima: A grape grower uplifted by family and neighborly warmth. - Gaetan Lapierre (Canada)

Our Life, Our Hiroshima is an interview series highlighting individuals involved in various fields of work after relocating to Hiroshima.

With residents from each of the G7 countries—France, US, UK, Germany, Japan, Italy, and Canada—the series spotlights each individual’s view of Hiroshima’s lifestyle and charms through the lens of their unique background.

Sera, a town in central Hiroshima Prefecture, is known for fruit and rice cultivation. Impressed by Hiroshima grapes, Canadian native Gaetan Lapierre and his wife relocated to Sera in 2012 to begin farming. We asked him about his ideal lifestyle in Hiroshima and the appeal of agriculture.

Interviewer/writer: Kumiko Ishigaki
Photographer: Kenichi Asano
Editor: Takeshi Maruta (CINRA, Inc.)

A single Pione* sealed his future

*Pione are large purple grapes grown in Japan since 1957.

Interviewer: What prompted your decision to move to Hiroshima?

Lapierre being interviewed in front of a house full of firewood

Gaetan: During a trip to Japan, I met my future wife, a Hiroshima native, and we embarked on a long-distance relationship. I relocated from my home in Canada to Hiroshima City when we decided to get married.

In Canada, Satsuma mandarins are sometimes called “Christmas oranges.” Canadians traditionally enjoy these citrus fruits during the Christmas season. Since I grew up savoring Japanese fruit, I always thought of it as sweet and delicious.

Interviewer: What exactly enticed you into the world of vineyards?

Gaetan: Soon after moving to Hiroshima, I tried the local Pione grapes and was amazed by their exquisite flavor. Large and seedless, they boasted just the right level of sweetness. Small sour grapes are the norm in Canada, so the sheer delight of the Pione was a culture shock. Even though I had no agricultural background, I dreamed of growing delicious Pione in Japan after tasting them for the first time.

A support network for budding farmers

Interviewer: How did you choose Sera as the home of Lapierre Vineyard?

Lapierre carring soil with a shovel to work in the field

Gaetan: Although I was committed to growing grapes in Japan, it was difficult to find a municipality offering agricultural support. However, Sera was increasing promotion of grape cultivation, and had an agricultural training program in place which offered knowledge, skills, and wide-ranging agricultural insights.

There were few international residents in Sera at the time, so I was a curiosity of sorts, but the local government supported our dream of making a go of it in agriculture.

The agricultural training program opened the door for us to get to know local farmers and the community itself. Now, we enjoy barbecues and travelling with members of the Sera Grape Growers’ Association.

Interviewer: Are there other reasons you are glad you settled in Sera?

Gaetan: Both Sera and my hometown of Hinton in Alberta province share a similar ambience, as both have mountains and forests. Canada is colder, so the climate is different, but I feel Sera has a hometown friendliness.

We have four children and Sera’s childrearing support is great. The surrounding region is also onboard, offering maternity classes and family-friendly activities. We moved here as a new couple, but never felt isolated. We now raise our children comfortably while participating in the give-and-take of the community.

Interviewer: What challenges arose as you took the leap into agriculture?

Lapierre thinning bunches of grapes on the vine

Gaetan: We began selling our own grapes in 2014 and struggled at first.

Fruit cultivation demands an ongoing investment of time and effort. Overburdened vines cannot yield delicious grapes, so there is an endless process of trimming individual berries and clusters. Overcrowded vines can result in disease, so branches and leaves must be fine-tuned as if they were in bonsai. This taxing work is all done by hand, but that’s what it takes to produce sweet and delicious grapes.

The warmth of Hiroshima locals

Interviewer: How do you view Hiroshima after a decade of life here?

Lapierre talking about the time when he came to Hiroshima

Gaetan: Hiroshima overflows with natural charm. We enjoy the beauty of four seasons with rivers, mountains, lakes, and the sea. It’s that natural richness, with the intense heat of summer and the snows of a cold winter which produces tasty fruit.

The warmth of Hiroshima locals remains unchanged since my first visit. One evening on my first trip to Hiroshima, my friends and I asked a businessman on the street for his recommendation of somewhere to enjoy a nightcap. He not only escorted us to a pub, but also treated us to a drink although we were strangers. We were all touched by his hospitality.

Once I started agriculture here, many locals recognized me from the beginning as “the Canadian farmer,” and I’m very grateful that people offer support or make a point of stopping by our booth at farmers’ markets.

Many people think of foreigners as being friendly and sunny, but I tend to be the shy type who doesn’t talk much (smile). In the early days, I tensed up whenever I spoke to a customer. Now I’ve relaxed, thanks to more public participation at my wife’s suggestion and to the warmth of the people of Hiroshima.

Interviewer: Did you face any difficulties moving to an unfamiliar place?

Gaetan: One challenge, not confined to Hiroshima, is that I struggled with unique Japanese euphemisms. I could not easily distinguish between people’s true feelings and surface conversation. In those days, my wife mediated, letting me know what members of the community wanted to communicate to me.

Sera seems to have more community events and festivals than Hiroshima City and taking part in those events with others provided insights into the local culture and way of thinking.

A joyful life putting family first

Interviewer: What has been most enriching about farm life?

Lapierre saying, "Family is the most important thing during the interview"

Gaetan: The time I spend with my family is the most important in my life, and happiness comes from those extra moments with my children. Farm work is tough, but I like the fact that I can adjust my work and time schedule since I’m my own boss.

In Japan, however, there is an ingrained mindset that the father is the breadwinner while the mother handles childrearing. In Canada, there is less parental role differentiation and family is considered all-important, so I do sense a significant gap in views.

Interviewer: Do you have further goals in agriculture?

Lapierre smiling as he holds his own grapes

Gaetan: In terms of immediate goals, I have recently begun studying regenerative agriculture, which seeks a healthier ecosystem. Fruit is prone to disease and organic grape cultivation is difficult, but last year we ceased using herbicides and are attempting to relearn, starting with soil conditioning. Down the road, I would love to grow grapes for wine and establish a winery. The traditional Japanese house where we live has a wonderful storehouse. Someday I would love to turn it into a tasting room and wine vault.

Profile

Gaetan Lapierre
Lapierre is from Hinton, Alberta, in western Canada. He relocated to Sera with his Japanese wife in 2012, and subsequently studied farming and grape cultivation at the Sera Industrial Creation University, a local agricultural support program. He and his wife currently run Lapierre Vineyard while raising four children. They produce 18 grape varieties, including Pione and Shine Muscat (a large, seedless green grape), as well as 10 varieties of peaches.

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