”Miraculous” fruit is an auspicious way to start the new year, growers say.

Japan’s favorite winter fruit is the mandarin orange, or mikan, as it’s called in Japanese. They’re especially popular at New Year’s, when you’ll see them atop stacks of kagami mochi, a traditional New Year’s home decoration, and in bowls placed strategically in the center of living room kotatsu, so that you’ll have a supply of snacks to munch on without having to pull yourself away from the cozy heated-underside table.

Mikan are grown across Japan, with different regions suited to different varieties of the fruit, and in the town of Inuyama, Aichi Prefecture, their claim to citrus fame are gorilla poop mikan.

Though it’s an accurate description, the growers of the gorilla poop mikan, the Japan Monkey Center, have the marketing savvy to dub them “Miracle Mikan” (Kiseki no Mikan in Japanese). Still, the research center/zoo is quite open about the fruits’ fecal foundations.

It all started about 20 years ago with Hanako, a female western lowland gorilla who was living at the Japan Monkey Center. Hanako was particularly fastidious about keeping her living space tidy, and so after she dropped some primate poo she’d often pick it up and toss it into the dirt outside of her enclosure. The center’s groundskeepers were pretty diligent about picking up the droppings, but there was at least one time they missed a spot, because a mikan tree sapling sprouted from the ground right where Hanako would fling her poo, and the specific type of mikan tree it was, hassaku, was the same kind as the mikan they’d been giving to Hanako, which she’d eat seeds and all.

The center decided to let the tree that had sprouted from the seed mixed in with Hanako’s poop grow, and in 2007 it started bearing fruit. It’s now some six meters (19.7 feet) tall, and what’s more, a few years after fruit started showing up on Hanako’s tree another mikan sapling sprouted inside the enclosure of Hanako’s mate, Taro, for the same reason, so now the Japan Monkey Center has two gorilla poop mikan trees.

The harvesting of the Miracle Mikan has become an annual year-end event at the center, as has handing them out as good luck charms to guests of the facility at the start of the new year. As for why gorilla poop oranges should be lucky, the Japan Monkey Center estimates the odds of Hanako’s tree sprouting the way it did were extremely low, and it might also have something to do with the Japanese words for “feces” (fun) and “good luck” (un) sounding very similar to one another, which can lead to some rather unique superstitions.

For 2022, from January 1 to 3 Miracle Mikan will be given to the first 30 visitors each day to the Africa Center inside the Japan Monkey Center. The 2021 harvest, however, was a bumper crop of roughly 600 pieces of fruit, so if the remaining 500 gorilla poo oranges are going to be given to the gorillas, there might be more “miracles” to come in the future.

Related: Japan Monkey Center
Sources: Asahi Shimbun Digital via Livedoor News via Jin, Japan Money Center
Top image: Pakutaso (1, 2) (edited by SoraNews24)
Insert image: Japan Monkey Center
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