Young Whanganui beekeeper Johann Ander's visit to Japan has started a knowledge exchange between himself and the large Yamada Bee Company.
Mr Ander was invited to visit Japan by its owner and chief executive, Hideo Yamada, who visited New Zealand earlier this year to find out about New Zealand beekeeping and mānuka honey. Mr Ander was asked to show him around.
Mr Yamada followed up with an invitation to him to teach and learn in Japan, with travel and expenses paid. Mr Ander was there for 23 days, both in mainland Okayama and on the island of Hokkaido. He got back to New Zealand on August 26.
He had never been out of New Zealand before, and said it was an amazing trip and his Japanese hosts were very kind and caring.
"I'm grateful to Mr Yamada, because it was a pretty awesome thing."
He hoped to get ideas about how to run his own business, Yobees Honey Ltd. Like him, Mr Yamada started young, with a similar number of hives. Now his business is massive and Mr Ander got to see the entire operation - from hives to storage, to research centre to factories and even some shops.
The Yamada Bee Company has 2000 staff in its head office alone. It imports special honeys from all over the world and makes more than 800 products - many for health and beauty rather than nutrition - and it provides bees for pollination.
Hive set-ups are very different in Japan, Mr Ander found. Most have to be close to houses because it's a small country with 127 million people, lots of forest and rice fields and little pasture.
The bees are similar, and from Italian honeybee stock, but there are also carniolan bees and six varieties of hornets that are pests.
Mr Ander showed his Japanese hosts everything he does in New Zealand - including how hives are inspected and a quicker way to make creamed honey.
In Japan other bee health products are much better known than mānuka honey, he said.
He learned about the health products Yamada makes, especially those using royal jelly and propolis. Now he wants to get his bees making them too, and send some of the result, frozen, to Japan for testing.
Royal jelly is made by bees to feed their larvae, and said to have many health benefits. The Yamada company started making it to sell after it helped Mr Yamada's sister, who was ill.
Mr Ander found Japanese beekeepers insightful and knowledgeable, and open to new ideas. He travelled with a guide and translator who was not a beekeeper, which made for a few difficulties.
"I had to explain it in a very simple way, so that the translator could put it into Japanese words."
One downside of the trip was a bad experience with a Chinese airline, which lost his luggage for two weeks and threatened not to put him on another flight. The best thing about the trip was getting a thorough grounding in the Yamada business - and a visit to Tokyo's Disneyland on his final day was a bonus.
He's still in email contact with Yamada staff, sending them pictures, and expects to sell them some honey.
And, as spring advances toward summer, he's preparing his 300 hives for the coming season.