Satsuma, Part II

Satsuma, Part II

温州蜜柑, さつま町

Satsumas. The family tree. Slocomb, Alabama.  November 2009.


Note: This is the second of my 2-part piece on “Satsuma”, a word whose meanings and connotations and connections cross hemispheres and centuries (as do most words, actually).  To read-up on where we’ve been so far, please check out Satsuma, Part ITo repeat a previous caveat (or, perhaps, disclaimer), this is meant neither as scholarship nor literature, but will hopefully be something the reader finds interesting.


So, how does a small, southwest Alabama town come to be named after a defunct Japanese feudal province?  Easy:  take a real, physical, tangible part of that province and relocate it to across the wide Pacific, then the North American continent, to cleared land just north of Mobile Bay.

Satsuma. From my family’s South Alabama tree. I have one left from those I picked over Thanksgiving Weekend.

First, a little review.  Satsuma, Japan, is the name of a peninsula at the extreme south of Kyushu, the southernmost of Japan’s 4 main islands.  Up until the latter part of the 1800’s it was also the name of a feudal domain that — after the 1877 Satsuma Rebellion against the recently-formed, reform-oriented central government — was broken up.  Satsuma is also the name of a particular style of porcelain ware(occasionally derivative from the more famous Imari ware, also from Kyushu), first crafted (as all the first porcelain ware in Japan) by Korean artisans in the early 1600s.  And, Satsuma is a type of Mandarin Tangerine, first cultivated in China, although according to wiki:

The Chinese and Japanese names reference Wenzhou, a city in the Zhejian Province of China known for its citrus production. However, it has also been grown in Japan since ancient times, and the majority of cultivars grown in China today were cultivated in Japan and reverse-introduced into China in modern times.  (LetsJapan.Wordpress Note: Wenzhou’s city flower is the camellia, same as Alabama’s state flower.

.          .          .

Fruit Stand Sign. Wicksburg, Alabama. November 26, 2011.

Satsumas to Alabama

It’s worth noting that the Satsuma Rebellion was crushed in 1877, because it was in 1878 that the locals of Satsuma, Alabama, say that former Union Army General (and U.S. Minister to Japan) Robert Van Valkenburgh imported and introduced satsuma trees to north Mobile County, Alabama  (for more on Van Valkenburgh, please see Satsuma, Part I).  Van Valkenburgh had returned from his post in Japan in 1869.  We know that when Van Valkenburgh returned to the U.S. he settled in Suwannee County, Florida and, in 1874, was appointed to the Florida Supreme Court, in which he served until his death in August 1888.  I highly recommend your following this link to a bio on Van Valkenburgh, which mentions his second wife’s, (first wife Catherine died in 1863), Anna’s being instrumental in introducing satsumas to the Florida Panhandle.  Although some local, Satsuma, Alabama, lore suggests that Van Valkenburgh introduced satsumas to that part of the state, I can find no record of his having a direct hand in that.  Be that as it may, there is no question that Robert and Anna Van Valkenburgh were the link tying Sastuma, Japan to the Southeast United States and, ultimately to Alabama, Florida, Mississippi, Louisiana and Texas where satsumas are still grown.


Robert B. Van Valkenburgh

Cold Snap(s)

Bringing us up to the present day can be done summarily:  in 1910 “Pace Orange Orchard” maintained about 100 acres of pecan and satsuma trees in north Mobile County, Alabama and in 1915 the unincorporated town of Satsuma was established in the area.  Satsuma orchards were enlarged and it seems thrived, but a series of hard winters in the Deep South during the Teens and into the Twenties of the last century killed-off too many of the trees to make commercial cultivation, at least on a grand scale, viable.  Of course, some satsuma growers remain, notably south Louisiana’s Simon Citrus Farm.  Following are two photos from Auburn University’s archives of satsuma cultivation in Mobile County:

Picking satsumas in J.Lloyd Abbot’s grove. November 1925.


Mobile County Agricultural Agent, W.C. Vail, inspects satsumas. November 1925.


In 1959 a Town Charter for “Satsuma, Alabama” was presented to, and approved by, Mobile County and State of Alabama officials and, thus, 2009 marked Satsuma’s 50th Anniversary.  It has a population of about 6,000.  It a particularly pretty little town in the spring, when the azaleas and dogwoods are in bloom.  Last Saturday (December 5) it staged its annual Christmas Parade.

Satsuma, Alabama, azaleas in the springtime.

Photo via this Town of Satsuma, Alabama website.


The Other Satsuma

It seems no small irony to me that while there is, indeed, a Satsuma, Japan, that Satsuma (さつま町) was not incorporated, did not exist as a town named “Satsuma” until March of 2005, when the towns of Miyanojo and Tsuruda merged under the new name “Satsuma“, now known in Japan as much for its hot springs and traditional inns as it is for its citrus heritage.  It’s population:  27,300.

Satsuma, Japan.


Hot bath at one of the many “ryokan” (traditional inns) in and near Satsuma, Japan



* “Satsuma” is also the name of a restaurant in London.  One of the lunch specials is a vegetable yaki soba for £5.00 (“Takeaway Only”).


* “Satsuma” is a new brew (Satsuma Harvest Wit) by the Abita Springs brewing company of New Orleans, featuring the juice from Louisiana-grown satsumas (another Van Valkenburgh legacy).  Says Abita’s website:

“Abita Harvest Series incorporates the finest Louisiana-grown ingredients. No artificial flavors, extracts or oils are used in Abita Harvest Series, only real fresh ingredients that are Louisiana-grown and Louisiana True.”

Below you can watch an 8-minute video on Abita’s “Satsuma Harvest Wit”, if you’re so inclined.  I’ve actually had a couple of these and though I’m not much for “flavored” beers, I found it pretty tasty.


*  Then there’s the London band, “Satsuma” (what’s with London?).  It’s not exactly my cup of cha, but, well, here they are live, singing “Quiet! Quiet! Easy! Easy!”  I do kind of like the verse about Brave New World.


For anyone who’s made it through this whole thing and who isn’t totally exhausted, at least regarding “All Things Satsuma”, I provide the following additional links:

Auburn University’s Satsuma Page.

Texas A&M’s Satsuma Q & A Page.

>   A Satsuma Facebook Page.

>  A photo of the WWI Era Japanese Battleship Satsuma.

>  Links to the Louisiana’s Satsuma and to  Texas’ Satsuma.


    • Dick Echols
    • December 12th, 2009

    There seems to be no end to your interests! Jeez!

      • letsjapan
      • December 12th, 2009

      I live in Alabama. It’s the only Alabama town named after a place in Japan.

      2 + 2 = Blog Entry.

      And I do love the taste of satsumas in November and December…

  1. January 29th, 2010
    Trackback from : Satsuma, Part I « LetsJapan

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