Do you like fruits? I like fruits. I enjoy eating watermelon, peaches, lychee, and anything that ends with the syllables “berry”. Not only are fruit great to eat by themselves but they are tasty in smoothies, waffles, bread, and pies (FYI, pies aren’t a thing in Japan) and for me, anything that has fruit. I’m getting hungry just typing this.
Most Japanese also enjoy fruit. They eat them in a variety of fashions. The most popular ways to eat fruit are fresh by itself, in a parfait, or wrapped in a crepe. When the weather gets hot, fruit are more commonly sliced and served with ice cream as parfaits or blended with ice for smoothies.
Japan is also famous for growing watermelon in odd shapes (square watermelon costing 20,000 JPY) and also the elusive ripe white strawberries (12-pack for 7,000 JPY) that sell for exuberant prices. Japan also has its own unique fruits such as nashi, a Japanese pear, and a lemon-like citrus called yuzu.
Getting Your Fruit Fix in Japan
To meet my fruit cravings while living in Tokyo, I had to change some of my eating habits. In the US most fruits are available year long; you never needed to keep track of seasons unless it is a unique fruit like pomegranate. Warm weather in the southern states extends orange and other fruit growing seasons.
Meanwhile in Japan, with its small surface area and extremely seasonal climate, fruit prices and availability are largely dictated by the seasons. Don’t expect to find fresh strawberries or peaches far outside of their picking season. Prices can fluctuate during the picking season as well; at the start of the season a dozen strawberries can be found for 1,000 JPY and a couple months later the price will drop to about 300 JPY.
Fruits not grown in Japan like bananas, raspberries, grapefruit, and pineapples are imported from warmer countries. They are available year around and the prices don’t fluctuate. Bananas are a popular fruit and are found in almost every supermarket and convenience store, but raspberries, grapefruit, and pineapples are not as popular and more relegated to specialty stores or wholesale stores.
If you want to learn more about shopping for food and cooking basics in Japan, and what supplies you need, check out a couple of my previous blog posts: Working Your Way Around Your Japanese Kitchen and Cooking for One in Japan. There I give rundowns about utensils, imports, and where to find fruits and other food not normally produced in Japan.
Go Pick it Yourself!
Living in Tokyo provides many interesting opportunities. While millions of people are packed tightly in the dense city, it only takes an hour train ride to be in the middle of nowhere. Well… not nowhere but the fields of Chiba prefecture. Mixed in with Chiba’s rice paddies are greenhouses that coax various types of strawberries to produce vast quantities and become ripe for picking during the early spring and in this case, late winter. As a bonus, you can go pick your own to eat.
I took the long trek out to a greenhouse known for large strawberries. I ate a light breakfast and brought my Nintendo 3DS (I’m a Monster Hunter fan) knowing that the trip was going to be long. When arriving, I checked in at my reserved time and paid the 1600 yen for my allotted 15 minutes. 15 minutes may seem too short but you can eat quite a few strawberries in that time. I ate 40 fairly large strawberries before the time ran out and my stomach felt like it was going to burst.
One thing I did while eating was experiment with taste. Going to the supermarket around Tokyo you don’t really have options on fruit freshness. A good deal of fruit is picked when it is transitioning from un-ripe to ripe so that it reaches peak ripeness when it hits the store shelves. With fruit like strawberries and bananas, taste and consistency changes greatly with ripeness.
When picking in a greenhouse, you can try all levels of ripeness and, in the strawberry’s case, size. In my adventures I learned that I prefer the tart taste of half white/half red strawberries. While I can’t find that level of ripeness in the supermarket, picking my own strawberries gives me a better idea on how I could gauge freshness and taste of store-bought strawberries before buying.
Here are some other fruits and their picking season:
Greenhouse shopping and fruit picking is a great excuse to get out of the city. Planning a whole day of events makes the long train ride well worth it. There are so many options when you are out in the countryside: go visit the many temples or shrines, take a stroll through some interesting parks, or just relax by the ocean. So give it a try next time you’re staring out the window looking at the flowers blossoming.
Software Engineer and Blogger at TalentHub
Usually coding, writing, or exploring Japan.
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