birds in a barrel's mission is to release creative nonfiction into the wild.

40 Days & 40 Writes is its first project.


Yamanashi prefecture outside of Tokyo might be the umbrella capital of the world. It is nearly always raining here. My handlers with the local agriculture ministry escorting me around the region's fruit farms never left the car without one, quick to unfurl them to keep me relatively dry.

Most of the umbrellas I saw, however, were protecting the fruit. At the top of every grape cluster in every vineyard, workers had attached tiny wax paper umbrellas to protect the cluster from the rain, and the certainty of rot. There were "umbrellas" over fruit trees in the form of temporary plastic houses. The "umbrellas" over the bushes took the form of long plastic tubes following rows of bushes up hillsides.

Yamanashi produces the specialty fruit you find selling for hundreds of dollars in gift boxes on display in Japanese department stores. The fruit must look absolutely perfect. So the effort and expense of large and small umbrellas is acceptable to these farmers. Anything to protect perfection.

But what does so much water do to the taste of this fruit? I always understood the best fruit isn't the plumpest or most beautiful.

Three days trudging through the muck and rain visiting government offices, vineyards, fruit farms. And no one offered me a single taste of the fruit. I was told nothing was ripe enough to eat. Nothing. Weird, yes. But everyone was so polite. Endlessly polite. I didn't press the point.

But the evidence of the water was in the wine I tasted made with grapes from the vineyards I visited. The aromas were abundant, remarkable explosions of flowers and fruit. The first sip: lovely. Then nothing. Nothing. Nothing. Until the finish kicked in with lovely, lingering, silky tannins. Sugarless blackberries.

Sugar melts in the rain, umbrellas not withstanding.

Born far from home