Posts Tagged ‘ satsuma ’

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.

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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.



Satsuma, Part I


Satsuma, Part I

温州蜜柑, さつま町

What people in the Deep South call a Satsuma.


Note:  after reading and, hopefully, enjoying this piece, please make sure to visit “Satsuma, Part II“, which brings this history and many of the twists and turns surrounding All Things Satsuma, up to date.


When I was a kid in Northern Virginia in the ’60s and ’70s, my father made a point of treating the family to oranges and tangerines and all such citrus fruit around Christmas.  There were always a couple of tangerines in the stockings on Christmas morning.  This was nice and I came to associate that citrus smell mingled with those of pine from the Christmas tree and hot chocolate and burning wood from the fireplace and sometimes snow with the whole holiday season.

But I didn’t really get why all varieties of orange were so special to my South Alabama born-and-bred father until he, as well as my West Virginia-raised mother, would from time-to-time reminisce about growing up during the Great Depression and how a few oranges were such an incredible treat, were a luxury, around Christmastime.  Being raised during the “boom” ’60s and ’70s, such a time as that in which my parents were raised was difficult for me to comprehend.

There was another reason, though, that tied my father, who just past away last year just shy of his 86th birthday and his and my mother’s 60th wedding anniversary, to all manner of citrus as December rolled around.  Growing up in the very Deep South gave him and his family put them in relative proximity to Central Florida’s orange groves, whose annual bounty came in season beginning around late September, extending into the winter.  But there was more:  it wasn’t until the late 1970s, when my immediate family moved from the cacophony and concrete of Metro D.C. to the pines and placidity of extreme Southeast Alabama (7 miles from the Florida Line), that I began to learn that this part of the country had its own, “native” citrus crop, a direct descendant of what’s now Kagoshima Prefecture, Kyushu Island, Japan . . . and the Meiji Restoration, a retired Union Army General, and Civil War . . . in Japan.  How small the world is.  How integrated times and places can be.

My family’s satsuma tree. November 2009.



In 1878 retired U.S. General Robert Van Valkanberg, fresh from a diplomatic posting in Japan, made his way to the wilds of Southwest Alabama to make manifest his dream to become a citrus baron.  In 2005 two towns situated at the southernmost tip of Japan’s southernmost large island, Kyushu, merged to become the small city of Satsuma-cho, “-cho” meaning “town” in Japanese (さつま町).  Several times over Thanksgiving Weekend 2009, I walked out from the back door of my parents’ home in southeast Alabama, 7 miles from the Florida line, and picked and ate small, delicate, sweet and sour “mandarin oranges”, locally called “satsumas“, and thought of my father who about 10 years earlier planted the tree that continues to bring them forth, ready-to-savor, beginning around every early-to-mid November.

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“a most agreeable day”

In the waning months of the U.S. Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln appointed Congressman Robert Van Valkenberg — a New York lawyer who had raised militias to fight in the war (he commanded the New York Volunteers 107th Regiment at the Battle of Antietam) — to the post of U.S. Minister to a newly-opened Japan, a country that was experiencing its own internal upheavals after 250 years of isolationism, feudalism and internal stability.  The former ruling Tokugawa Shogunite (generalissimo) Regime had recently been toppled, the Emperor had been “restored” to his place of prominence as Japan’s leader, a cabinet of sorts had been established to advise Emperor Meiji on reasserting and consolidating his family’s position in Japan, and various skirmishes and all out battles were breaking out throughout Japan (and would do so for a couple of decades to come) between those loyal to the Emperor and those loyal to the Shogunite.  It was a confusing time.  And these were the times, in August 1866, that General Van Valkenberg arrived in Tokyo Bay and was received by the new, fragile government as Washington’s top liaison to Japan.  According to one contemporary account, it was, all in all, a most agreeable day.

Satsuma tree. Slocomb, Alabama. November 2008.


Now exactly how Gen. Van Valkenberg became familiar with a particular type of tangerine grown on the southern tip of Japan’s southern most large island, Kyushu, appears lost in antiquity.  However, what’s not debatable is that as the United States’ Foreign Minister to Japan from 1866 until November 1869, there’s no doubt that he was treated and feted to all of Japan’s best delicacies, which would include the best citrus from what was then-called Satsuma Domain (Satsuma-han), later to become part of present day Kagoshima Prefecture.  Van Valkenberg’s familiarity with Deep South Japan also came by way of his intervening in one of the internal struggles — and battles — which flared between rival “pro-Emperor” vs. “pro-Feudal System” armies in Southern Japan, known as the Boshin War and waged in the heart of old Satsuma Domain.  Minister Van Valkenberg initially blocked the delivery of the French-built ironclad ship, C.S.S. Stonewall, to the Japanese government, desiring to keep the U.S. neutral during Japan’s civil war(s), but eventually delivery was made and a ship originally built for the Confederate Navy went into service as Japan’s first ironclad navel vessel.  Another twist to the story:  when in 1865 the then-named C.S.S. Stonewall (later renamed the Kōtetsu by the Japanese navy) first arrived off the U.S. East Coast, manned by Confederate sailors, one of the U.S. ships that met it was the U.S.S. Kearsarge, which in June 1864 sank the Confederate raider, C.S.S. Alabama, off the Cherbourg, France.  Small world.

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Please see:  Satsuma,  Part II:  satsumas arrive from Japan to Alabama (and Florida, and Louisiana. . . ).  Cold snaps wipe-out dreams (ahh . . . doesn’t that say so much), new towns are born, beer’s brewed and, well, other things happen.

Local Satsumas (right). Wicksburg, Alabama. November 26, 2011.