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There’s a man with the solid belief that this business is his calling.
This man, who lived through a turbulent period and headed to the north without any of his belongings,
built a generation after overcoming many obstacles.
The eyes of this man who has loved and been loved by apples still glisten at present.

File#② Tsuneo Kitae <2nd Volume>

Expansion and Relocation of the Business Office

After suffering from the disease, Kitae re-started his business full of motivation. After being discharged in 1961, he expanded the business widely, building a refrigerated warehouse, a fruit-sorting facility, and a storage house for materials. He also vigorously studied to acquire knowledge about apples.
As his business expanded, a larger space was required. In Higashi Watoku, Hirosaki, the company ran businesses across from each other. When he moved from Hiraka he decided to relocate to Higashi Watoku because, according to his business peer, about 3000 tsubo (9900 sq. meters) was enough to start. The space was enough at the beginning, and the business was growing. But at harvest time, a huge amount of apples were brought in boxes and piled up on a pallet on the side of the street. The traffic between the two warehouses got busier, and he naturally received many complaints. Although it happened only during the harvest season, it really interfered with the traffic. From 1968, when this situation started, he began searching for a place to move. During this period, an underpass was being planned in Higashi Watoku, and his property was purchased. Fortunately, he had already started to look for a new property.

In 1970, while he was looking for proper land, the construction of the Hirosaki Bypass for Route 7 was announced to start immediately. In those days trucks, rather than trains, were used for the transportation of apples. Thus, business on the main road was very attractive. The land was more than enough space, so he decided to buy the property where the present company is located. He expanded the area little by little by purchasing every year. The price of the land had doubled in 1975, by the time the road was opened.
His new business started together with the newly built company building in 1975 when the Hirosaki Bypass opened. Later, the warehouse and the refrigerated facility were gradually built, and the whole business transfer was completed.

At Kitae Shoten, Higashi Watoku

Strong Preference for Refrigerators

It is indispensable to have a refrigerator when dealing with apples. A snow cabin was used for preservation when Kitae Co. Ltd. started. It was an era when home appliances were scarce, even refrigerators. He foresaw the importance of refrigerators and researched them long before he was stricken with the illness. People would call him “a man of vision.” During the years of commuting between Hirosaki and Kobe, he learned that there were refrigerated storage houses for vegetables, including onions. He was permitted to use one for his apples in order to study its effect. He was the earliest to build a refrigerator in Higashi Watoku, Hirosaki — a pioneer in the field. The refrigerators in those times had pipes on the ceiling and the cold air chilled from the top to the bottom. However, there was unevenness to the chilling and it did not spread to the corners. He consulted with a specialist to place pipes on the sides, in order to circulate cold air by convection. Such an idea can only be thought of by a pioneer like Kitae. This achievement was the result of his outstanding foresight - the result of diligent studying from a young age - together with an engineer from Koa Freezing Company. From that point on, Kitae started to work on the introduction of Controlled Atmosphere (CA) Refrigerators.

Warehouses and Refrigerating Facilities that lead to the back of the broad area

“Nothing can beat CA Refrigerators,” Kitae constantly said.
Kitae continuously researched refrigerators with the engineer and discussed them further to deepen his knowledge. “Meeting with this engineer made it possible to realize the present success,” he tells us, referring to the refrigerating work they did together.
In 1976, when he was an official of the Aomori Apple Sales Co-op (referred to as “the co-op”), the co-op decided to introduce a CA Refrigerator. This provided Kitae with an opportunity to study the refrigerators closer to his business. Different from regular refrigeration, CA requires an artificial composition of air. It is a technique to sustain the quality of apples by controlling the breathing of the fruit.
He studied ways to manage and operate it. The CA Refrigerator must be air-tight. He searched for ways to keep air tightly contained while he learned techniques by trial and error. In 1978, Kitae built a CA Refrigerator for his company and became the first individual to own one. He concentrated on how to maintain the freshness of apples while operating this CA Refrigerator. Apples mature when exposed to oxygen, and lose their freshness over time. They have to be put in a controlled atmosphere as soon as possible to maintain their freshness. Oxygen should be reduced in the air as quickly as possible. He thought of using a nitrogen generator to lower the density level of oxygen. It takes days to reduce the level of gas in the usual way, which means a deterioration of quality. These few days make a big difference. Also, he says, “It is most important to keep freshness without losing moisture.” Apples with reduced moisture tend to lack taste and texture, worsening the quality. So, he intended to keep supplying moisture in the CA Refrigerator. He placed a humidifier inside and tested it. The temperature was kept at 0 degrees centigrade, but strict temperature control was needed so as not to fall below zero. When the water froze at 0 degrees C with a humidifier running, the apples went bad.
Kitae constantly thought of measures to cope with this. He noticed that river water didn’t freeze in cold areas. River water never freezes because it constantly moves. So, he tried to move the water at 0 degrees C. The water in the humidifier tank was agitated so that it managed to operate day and night. The water temperature was controlled thoroughly so that it did not hit below zero. This is said to be much more difficult than it sounds.

Kitae’s refrigeration and storage system is superior in two ways: how fast it reaches the CA status, and how well it keeps moisture in the CA. The high cost is a disadvantage, but this method provides us with a possible extension of the apple sale period into the summer months. And he is proud to serve the development of the apple market and to contribute to Aomori Prefecture as a whole. As a result of his diligent research, he acquired a world-class CA refrigeration technique.

Kitae Apple Refrigerating Facilities

Kitae Apple

In 1980, commemorating 30 years of its history, Kitae Shoten, a private enterprise, became Kitae Apple Co., Ltd. Being naturally ambitious, Kitae thought of expanding the business as a corporation by saying that a private enterprise was old-fashioned. As the transition from Higashi Watoku to the new property progressed, he continued buying land to extend it further almost every year. At present in 2017, the entire area is 117,700 square meters. In this area, he built a CA Refrigerator facility of 15,000 sq. meters which contains 730,000 apple boxes (1 box = 20 kg), a regular refrigerator of 6,000 sq. meters with 310,000 boxes, an Automatic CA Refrigerator of 1,400 sq. meters with 52,000 boxes, a Fruit Sorting Facility of 29,950 sq. meters, a material warehouse of 6,900 sq. meters, and other facilities.

Inside the largest material warehouse

The fruit sorting facility

Among them is a Flexible Automation-Controlled Atmosphere (FA) Refrigerator. It is namely an automatic refrigerator. As a CA Refrigerator keeps the oxygen level lower than the regular atmosphere, people cannot enter. In order to work inside the fridge, it is necessary to leave the door open for a few days beforehand. In addition, the preservation of all the apples will be at risk if one needs to take out only some of them. To cope with this problem, the FA Refrigerator was developed. It has the advantage of being able to deal in smaller amounts of scarce varieties of apples. When a scarce variety is requested from a customer, they can provide apples of high quality - the same as from a CA Refrigerator. This revolutionary device is a computer-operated fridge with racks and a crane inside. It can keep apples in a controlled atmosphere until just one hour before shipment. It enables the shipment of fresh apples of rare varieties in even July and August, and maintains the highest of quality control.
The FA Refrigerator is only owned by Kitae Apple Co., Ltd., the only of its kind in the prefecture, and it has become the principal facility of Kitae Apple. Kitae has never saved money for capital investments, and has always thought only of apples and customers. As employees increased, the company climbed to the top of the industry.

Sketches of the FA refrigerator

He strived for the strictest of quality control and managed the company. Consequently, he was awarded the testimonial of the 140th anniversary of planting apple trees in Aomori Prefecture in 2015. It was for his long term contribution to apple industrial development. He said, impressed, “I am happiest with this kind of prize. Apples are never born without producers. I understand our business is up to them. But we all united and made various efforts to this day. I’m really glad that people acknowledged my contributions to the Aomori apple industry.”

The testimonial of the 140th anniversary of planting apple trees in Aomori Prefecture

Kitae still contemplates the future of the apple industry. He thinks that the export business is important. At present, Taiwan is the largest export partner, but other countries should be considered as well.
One time he had a chance to visit Sri Lanka, thanks to a person he met at the market. Sri Lanka is an island just off the shore of South East India. They produce sapphire and jewelry such as tiepins and necklaces. He tried to sell apples there, although he couldn’t reach an agreement on the price since there were already ones from China. But he still believes in the need to expand the market to the world in the future. He thinks that the apples of Aomori would be accepted widely in the world.

The fruit sorting facility

Life ~ Turning crisis into opportunity ~

Kitae proudly said, “There are three good chances in one’s life. If you can grasp two out of three, you can call it a howling success. Even once is a success. But I got all three of them and made them work.” It is true that there are many people who end life without any chances, but Kitae realized his dream. He was able to turn crisis into opportunity. The big injury caused by a train crash saved him from the battle field. Next, the fire insurance enabled him to re-construct the warehouse after losing it to a big fire in Hiraka, which allowed him to extend his business in Hirosaki. And, fortunately, he was able to recover from a severe illness. During his three-year hospitalization, other traders were damaged by a slow apple business and some went bankrupt. But he was able to receive an exceptional loan from the bank. When the growing business made him feel the need for more space, the city’s underpass street plan arose and he could sell the property at a high price and get spacious land to build the present company building and warehouses. The examples like these seem endless.
Also, Kitae never waited for chances to come; he constantly researched for the business. He acquired techniques for refrigeration and strived for quality control, which made him say, “Controlled Atmosphere Refrigeration cannot be beaten.” “I always aim for perfect and I wouldn’t allow things to stay incomplete,” he added. He has run the business with a lot of effort, always considering how to be successful and where best to direct the business next. These are the reasons that he could succeed in turning crisis into opportunity.

Being a bidder at auction, 7-80 is Kitae

Mr. Ose, 66, Managing Director, with 35 years of working alongside Kitae, talked about Kitae.
“The chairman has never moved beyond the young age that doesn’t listen to anyone. He persists in his assertions. He is not an ordinary person; no matter what others say, he won’t give up. But he definitely takes responsibility on matters and protects his employees. He is a fit and proper man to lead the company.”
“The founder of any enterprise seems to be like him. Since the founder builds up the company from the beginning, he is required to be energetic,” he said, impressed.
Again he told an interesting story from when they were building a warehouse.
“When the warehouse in the fruit sorting facility was built, there were several steel-frame columns in the center. The chairman wanted to remove one of them since it interrupts the work. They were there for structural purposes and the constructor was perplexed.”
Kitae insisted on removing one in spite of the high cost and long work time. They managed to remove it somehow. Mr. Ose said with nostalgia, “It is now a fun anecdote, but we were in trouble at the time.”

(left) Getting familiar at the company’s party
(right) Singing a song at an employee’s wedding reception

Life ~ At the Age of 95 ~

Kitae lives a well-regulated life, finishing breakfast around 8:30. He said, “I have a good appetite in the morning.” He walks about 20 minutes in the morning and the evening. And he uses a treadmill for 10 minutes. He goes to a hot spa in the afternoon and enjoys going to the company later. “It’s still fun to work. I say things without reserve. I try not to irritate others though,” he laughed.
He never misses eating an apple a day. “It’s our merchandise and I need to confirm the taste of it,” he said. He seems to think of his business all the time.
Though he is health conscious, he became sick in recent years. He received three operations for emphysema. The first was 12 years ago, the second came 6 years ago and in the spring of 2016 the third attacked him. General anesthesia is said to be dangerous for a 94-year old during surgery. But Kitae had the physical strength to cope with the surgery and recovered safely. The surgeon said, “You are the oldest man I have ever operated on.” Kitae laughed and said, “I was strong enough to get operated on under full anesthesia.” Since he has kept an eye on his health and become healthy, he could recover from disease. He tries to live a well-regulated life.

(left) Kitae being interviewed
(right) At the site of Kitae Apple Co., Ltd.

Mr. Kenji Kitae, his first son, is the president of the company. At present he is invested with full power to run the company. Kitae said, “He is doing so well. I’m proud of him. I haven’t taught him anything, but he thinks by himself and he produces results. I, myself, chose my way and I believe I chose the best way. This style was probably handed down to him.”
Mr. Masaki Kitae, the grandson and the third generation, is a board member of the company and supports the president. He used to attend his grandfather’s business meetings when he was a college student, and learned the business by watching. He voluntarily did so, not being requested. Kitae expressed his feelings with affection: that he considers Masaki reliable and respectable.
Kitae has always faced his feelings honestly and worked with conviction. And this conviction has been passed on to the second and third generations.
Kitae was able to expand his business enormously because he is a naturally proficient trader who is provident and fortunate, and he has the power to take chances effectively. The company still runs ahead in the industry since his strong conviction has carried down through the generations. There seems to be no decline in his eyes; they convey a strong sense of purpose, as if he has yet more ambitions.

The three generations of Kitae, (Masaki, left, Tsuneo, center, Kenji, right)

←1st Volume

Written in February to March 2017
Released July 2017

Profile : Tsuneo Kitae

Born in March 1922 on Awaji Island, Hyogo Prefecture. Started business as a grocery wholesaler after 1945. Soon started to trade mainly apples. In 1950, founded Kitae Shoten, an apple specialized trader. Expanded business with repeated transferences. In 1980 changed the company name to Kitae Apple Co., Ltd. Placed emphasis on the management of technical improvements of refrigerated warehouses while maintaining a transportation and mail order apple business. At present manages the company as a chairperson while his son holds the post of president.

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