ルビつき和訳は英文の下にございます。/ The Japanese translation with Ruby is below the English text.



1. Satsuma mandarin is Citrus unshiu
2. The mandarin family
3. “Kishuu Mikan” (Citrus kishu)
4. The ancestor tree
5. Citrus unshiu, a seedless variety
6. Names for Citrus unshiu

Japanese translation

1. Satsuma mandarin is Citrus Unshiu

In early December, a neighbor gave us a bag of beautiful mandarin oranges from their yard.

An image of a satsuma with a note
[Click to enlarge / 画像をクリックすると拡大します] A present and the note which told us it is called “satsuma” / このメモで、この贈り物はサツマだと知りました。

There was a note left on the bag: “These are satsumas from our yard.” They looked very much like the mandarins we eat in Japan.

“Satsuma” is a name of a place on Kyushu Island, Japan. It is an area of mild climate and people grow mandarins there, but it was our first time to hear it as a variety name.

When we lived in Flushing, a Chinatown in New York City, a lot of mandarins were sold at supermarkets. However, they were labeled as “mandarin”, “clementine”, or ”tangerine”, and we had never seen “satsuma”.

How are they different?

We found that “satsumas” were the same mandarins as we commonly eat in Japan now. We call them “Unshuu mikan” or just “mikan” in Japanese, and its scientific name is “Citrus unshiu”.

2. The mandarin family

“Mandarin” is the Western word for the category of small oranges, which are sometimes a little flat in shape. Its bright orange color resembled, and therefore was strongly associated with the color of the clothes that Ching Dynasty (1644-1912) officials wore. Westerners called those officials and the Chinese citruses mandarins.

Mandarins are smaller than oranges and the skin is tenderer. It is easier to peel them by hand, and you can separate the inner segments easily.

Citrus unshiu, a.k.a. “satsuma” mandarin, is a variety in the mandarin family. According to the website of University of Florida, there are over one hundred cultivars of Citrus Unshu.

As to the differences among its cousins, a citrus orchard in Louisiana explains thus: “Satsuma” mandarin is sweet but has some acidity, and the taste is lighter. They have no pips. The tender skin makes it easy to peel but at the same time is susceptible to bruises, thereby making it harder to be sold commonly at supermarkets.

A clementine is smaller and sweeter than a “satsuma” mandarin, but it is not as easy to peel as “satsuma”. Also, a tangerine is bigger, sweeter and more flavorful, but harder to peel than “satsuma”.

3. Kishuu Mikan (Citrus kinokuni)

There are citruses indigenous to Japan, but the mandarin came to Japan from China.

The first mandarin variety which became prevalent in Japan was the one called “Kishuu mikan (mandarin from Kishu)” or “ko-mikan (small mandarin)“. Its scientific name is Citrus kinokuni.

Kishuu or Kinokuni means the area of present-day Wakayama Prefecture. This area has been famous for its rigorous breeding and cultivation of mandarins since the 16th Century.

Citrus kinokuni is about a quarter-size of Citrus unshiu. It has a pip in every segment and so they are not popular today.

…Except for some Citrus kinokuni, as explained in the next chapter, which they are valued very highly.

4. The Ancestral Tree

For example, there is the fruit of “Ozaki Ko-Mikan Ancestral Tree”. It is Japan’s oldest living tree of Citrus kinokuni in Tsukumi City, Oita Prefecture.

An image of Citrus Kishu, a parent of “Satsuma” or Citrus Unshu, on a 800-year-old tree in Oita, Japan
[Click to enlarge] The fruit of Ozaki Ko-mikan Ancestral Tree (Image from Oita Prefecture Archive)

This tree was planted here in 1157, and has been knocked over many times by strong winds and typhoons. As a result, the original trunk is dead.

However, when the tree branches were bent and forced to stay on the ground, some branches began to take roots. They gradually grew into small trees, and now there are eleven small trees around the original trunk forming a small grove. They cover an expanse of 4,800 square feet (446 square meters), and recently produced 617 pounds (280 kilograms) of fruit.

What a vitality! People would love to share some of it.

The fruit of this tree is branded as “Eight Hundred Years Old” and sold at fancy fruit stores.

One of them, Ginza Senbikiya of Tokyo, announced on Facebook about the delivery of “Eight Hundred Years Old” with the following comment:

Since the days of old, this fruit has been very highly regarded at auspicious occasions as the one to bring good luck, rather than for its taste.

By any chance, if we have one, we would like to remove the seeds first and sow them first.

5. Citrus unshiu, a seedless variety

On the other hand, Citrus unshiu, a.k.a. “satsuma”, has also been eaten for five to seven hundred years.

Citrus unshiu is a variety which was mutated from Citrus kinokuni in Nagashima, in present-day Izumi County, Kagoshima Prefecture. A DNA test identified its parent seed as Citrus kinokuni, and its pollen parent as Kunenbo (its scientific name Citrus nobilis) in 2016.

Click this link: The location of Nagashima 

However, until mid-19th Century Citrus unshiu was never cultivated nationwide.

Why not?

Because the fruit had no pips.

The seed is a metaphor of a child or posterity. In the feudal days, it was of utmost importance to make a lot of children and make the family prosper. Particularly in the warrior class, if a family had no male heir, the government would order the extinction of the family line. Therefore seedless mandarins were considered to be a symbol of bad luck.

6. Names for Citrus unshiu

Up until the Edo Era, Citrus unshiu had various names. So the Meiji Government standardized the name as “Unshuu mikan” for statistical purpose.

“Unshuu” is an old place name in China which produced the best mandarins according to a Chinese document from the 12th century. The Japanese wanted to share the good reputation by borrowing the place name.

One of Citrus unshiu’s older, popular names was “Riurin” or “Rihujin”. It’s written 李夫人, meaning something like Madame Li. Some say it’s the name of a woman of an unmatched beauty that Emperor Wu of Han loved. But it’s a little difficult to feel the connection between the lady and the fruit.

The name “Rihujin” has another possible origin. According to this theory, a word game is behind the name. Citrus Unshu was much bigger than the popular Citrus kishu, and yet it had no pips. It was unreasonable! The Japanese word for “unreasonable, inexplicable or irrational” is also “rihujin”, but is spelled “理不尽”. However, they applied different Chinese characters to the sound to make it look nice and poetic.

In the Edo Era, people often played with words and gave humorous names to things, so we think it is possible.

After the last part of Edo Era, more people began to growd Citrus unshiu in Japan, and in mid-Meiji Era the number of produced Citrus unshiu surpassed that of Citrus kinokuni. There were still people who would prefer to have Citrus kinokuni with pips for the New Year and other celebratory occasions, but more and more people wanted mandarins easier to eat.

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During this period of end-of-Edo-Era to beginning-of-Meiji-Era, Citrus unshiu spread abroad.

From the next posts, we will tell you how Citrus unshiu came to the United States, the United Kingdom and Canada, and why it began to be called “satsuma” mandarin in the US and the UK.

[End of the English post]




  1. 「サツマ」はほんうんしゅうみかん
  2. みかんのなか
  3. しゅうみかん
  4. せん
  5. うんしゅうみかんはたねがない
  6. みかんの






むかし、フラッシング (ニューヨークのちゅうがい) にんでいたときは、スーパーにみかんがたくさんっていました。でもまえはマンダリンかクレメンタインかタンジェリンで、ほんのみかんや「サツマ」をおぼえがありません。


調しらべてみたら、「サツマ」はいまほんつうのみかん、「うんしゅうみかん」のことでした。学名がくめいCitrus unshiu。


みかん(ちょっとひら たいかたちをしていることもある、ちいさい柑橘かんきつ)をそうしょうして西洋せいようで「マンダリン」といいます。あざやかなオレンジいろが、ちゅう国清ごくしんちょう(1644~1912)のかん(マンダリン)のふくおないろだったので、こうばれるようになりました。








ほん最初さいしょひろまったみかんは、「しゅうみかん」または「みかん」とばれる品種ひんしゅでした。学名がくめいはCitrus kinokuniです。






この1157せんひゃくごじゅうしちねんにこのしょしょくされましたが、これまでなん大風おおかぜなどでたおれ、もとみきれました。しかし、えだいたところからて、そこからちいさなそだち、いまではもとみきまわりに11じゅういちかぶちいさなもりのようにしげっています。そのひろがりは446よんひゃくよんじゅうろく平方へいほうメートル (4,800よんせんはっぴゃく平方へいほうフィート) におよび、280にひゃくはちじゅっキロ (617ろっぴゃくじゅうななポンド) にのぼるみかんがれるとのこと。






















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