Jane Alden Stevens

Growing apples in the traditional way is a laborious, hands-on process in Japan. At the moment of harvest, an apple raised in this manner has been touched by the farmer's hands at least ten times since its blossom was set. This includes picking off unwanted flower buds, hand-pollinating the blossoms, pruning the branches, covering individual fruit in colorful bags, hand-culling imperfect fruit, hand-turning them to ensure even coloring, and, in some cases, affixing stencils to the apples.

Over the course of two growing seasons, I photographed this process on the apple farms in Aomori Prefecture. The resulting body of work, titled “Seeking Perfection: Traditional Apple Growing in Japan”, is a meditation on the time, care, and attention that farmers using this method lavish on their orchards.

This approach to raising fruit is slowly disappearing, as more and more young people move off the farms to find work in the cities. When asked why fewer apples are being bagged now than 15 years ago, the farmers will hold up their hands in front of them and say, “Not enough hands!”

These photographs speak, therefore, to a tradition that is becoming increasingly marginalized, and thus preserve for future generations a memory of the agricultural past.

Jane Alden Stevens is a Cincinnati, OH based artist and teacher.
To view more of Jane's work, please visit her website.


Culling Blossoms #1, Spring, Aomori Prefecture 

Culling Blossoms #3, Spring, Aomori Prefecture 

Burning Trimmed Branches, Spring, Aomori Prefecture 

Culling Blossoms #2, Spring, Aomori Prefecture 

Pollination Wands, Spring, Aomori Prefecture 

Hand Pollination #1- Spring, Aomori Prefecture 

Bags for Apples, Early Summer, Aomori Prefecture 

Bagged Apple Tree, Early Summer, Aomori Prefecture 

Putting Bags on Apples #1, Early Summer, Aomori Prefecture 

Culled Apples & Branches, Early Summer, Aomori Prefecture 

Apples Outgrowing Their Bags, Fall, Aomori Prefecture 

Removing Outer Bags #1, Fall, Aomori Prefecture 

Apples With Red Inner Bags #1, Fall, Aomori Prefecture 

Apples With Red Inner Bags #2, Fall, Aomori Prefecture 

Removing Inner Bags #1, Fall, Aomori Prefecture 

After Inner Bag Removal, Fall, Aomori Prefecture 

Rejected Apple, Fall, Aomori Prefecture 

Culled Apples, Fall, Aomori Prefecture 

Imperfect Apple, Summer, Aomori Prefecture 

Rubber Bands Holding Apples in Place, Fall, Aomori Prefecture 

Stencils Being Applied to Apples, Fall, Aomori Prefecture 

Field Worker & Stenciled Apples, Fall, Aomori Prefecture 

Photogram Beneath the Stencil, Fall, Aomori Prefecture