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YOKOSUKA NAVAL BASE, Japan — Sam Bryan took one “right in the eyeball,” he said, jutting out his pulpy chin.

There he was, just an innocent 5-year-old peeling fruit, when mikan juice shot into his eyes and nose.

“I’m OK,” Sam said, bravely recounting his story. “I still like eating them.”

Citrus burns to the eyeball is one risk associated with eating mikan. So are sticky fingers, pulpy chins and the occasional case of overeating. This doesn’t stop scores of Japanese — and Mishel Flake’s kindergarten students from Sullivans Elementary School — from picking, eating and gorging themselves at mikan plantations throughout Japan. Flake’s class ventured to Yokosuka city’s Tsukuihama Kanko Noen Farm Wednesday to check out the popular Japanese pastime.

Pronounced “MEE-kahns,” mikans are cousins to oranges, grapefruits, lemons and limes. The trees are squatty in stature, which makes plucking the fruit easy for little hands.

But it’s important to note that bigger is not better when it comes to picking mikans, said student Jennifer O’Kelly.

“The smallest ones are sweetest,” Jennifer said, echoing the common mikan wisdom.

Michala Milewski had another strategy: setting your sights on the brightest of the bunch.

“I grab them when they’re bright and orange,” Michala explained. “Then I pick it off the tree and eat it.”

The Tsukuihama Kanko Noen Farm estimates 35,000 people will visit between now and December to pick mikans, workers there said Wednesday. For about 750 yen ($6.41), each visitor gets a bag to fill and can eat all he or she wants while picking. Additional mikans run 370 yen per kilogram ($3.16 per 2.2 pounds), plus 50 yen (42 cents) per basket.

“People come because they’re delicious,” said plantation worker Reiko Hara. “We have word-of-mouth advertising.”

But Flake hopes the kids took home more than mikans. Getting outside and seeing where their food comes from is good for youngsters, according to the kindergarten teacher.

“Food doesn’t just grow at the commissary,” she said. “We want to show them that.”

Meeting the mikans

Where to find mikans ready for picking:

Yokosuka City Tsukuihama Kanko Noen Farm

Access: Take a shuttle microbus from Tsukuihama station (Keikyu Line). For details, call 046-849-4506.

Miura Mikan Farm

Access: Get off at Miura-kaigan or Misakiguchi station (Keikyu Line); there is shuttle microbus service on weekends and holidays. For details, call 046-888-3151.

Yugawara Mikan Farm

Access: Get off at Yugawara station (JR Tokaido Line). For details, call 0465-62-5561.

Oiso Mikan Farm

Access: Approximately 10-minute bus ride from Ninomiya station (JR Tokaido Line) North Exit; get off at Fujimidaira or Nishikubo stop. For details, call 0463-73-1366.

Hadano Mikan Farm

Access: Take a bus for Minoge from Hadano station (Odakyu Line) and get off at Ochiai-iriguchi stop; approximately 10-minute bus ride and 15-minute walk from the stop. For details, call 0463-81-1509.

Isehara Mikan Farm

Access: Take a bus from Isehara station (Odakyu Line). For details, call 0463-93-2267.

— Source: Kanagawa NOW!

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