Miura, Kanagawa Pref. – “Ready, steady, go!” My two daughters quickly dart away and vanish into a sea of bushy green leaves flecked with dots of scarlet in search of their favorite fruit — strawberries.
Japan has long been known as a nation with a near-evangelical devotion to all things seasonal — from its appreciation of springtime sakura blossoms and the shifting fiery shades of autumnal leaves to the ceremony surrounding the auction sale of the first maguro tuna of the year.
Not to forget fruits. There are few better seasonal litmus tests than checking out the fruits on display in a supermarket, be it piles of citrus from southern Japan in winter, or juicy peaches from Fukushima Prefecture heralding summer.
For children, perhaps one of the best lessons in understanding the natural rhythm of Japan’s seasons is to head directly to a farm and pick whichever fruits or vegetables are available with their own hands — and then eat them.
Strawberries are the perfect fruit to start with. Not only are they perhaps one of the most popular fruits among children (well, with mine, in any case), they’re also in luscious abundance every year in Japan from winter through early summer, with more than 300 different varieties reportedly cultivated across the country.
Plus, countless farms, with strawberries grown in accessible weather-proof greenhouses, are within easy reach of Tokyo and other major urban hubs, offering plenty of strawberry-picking options for visitors.
Recently, we put this to the test with a visit to Kawana Farm on the Miura Peninsula of Kanagawa Prefecture, just over an hour by car from Tokyo. It offers an array of the ruby-red fruit’s tastiest varieties.
The family-run farm, which opened more than 20 years ago, has been cultivating strawberries since 2001, with picking taking place for five months between January and May (a medley of crops, including tomatoes, pumpkins and watermelons are grown at other times).
It’s impossible to miss: Much to the delight of my 8-year-old, who is wearing her favorite strawberry print dress for the fruit-picking occasion, the main building is painted a bright strawberry red.
After hand washing and temperature checking, we head toward the main greenhouse, where we are met with the sight of neat rows of green bushes, with a sprinkling of small white flowers and juicy red jewel-like strawberries.
A smiling staff member in big blue gloves hands us each a white plastic tray to use for strawberry-picking. She then, to the alarm of my daughters, produces a large squeeze bottle containing something white, prompting my 6-year-old to state defiantly, “Mama, I don’t want mayonnaise with my strawberries!”
Fortunately, it’s not mayonnaise; it’s condensed cream, a dollop of which is deposited into each of our trays for sweet strawberry dunking before we’re let loose in the greenhouse.
The rules are clear and simple. We have 30 minutes exactly to pick (with a gentle twist of the stalk) and eat as many strawberries as is humanly possible, but we’re not allowed to take any out of the greenhouse with us.
The girls immediately disappear into the neat green rows of strawberry bushes as they embark on their strawberry-picking mission.
I barely see them for the next 30 minutes — catching only glimpses of small, sticky hands reaching through the greenery for strawberries, the sound of laughter as they run between narrow rows of bushes and several shouted requests for more condensed milk.
As I explore the greenhouse (and its fruits) myself, I soon discover that the layout is as well-organized as the strawberries are addictively tasty. Each row has a tidy sign hanging above it with the name of the strawberry type.
First, I stop and pick some Benihoppe, a well-known variety (its name translates as “red cheek”), which I find have a fresh aroma and deliciously balanced taste. I then move on to Yayoi Hime, another popular strawberry, cartoon-like in its scarlet perfection, which I bite into to discover a deeper lingering sweetness.
While 30 minutes sounds quite short, it turns out to be more than enough time to fill up on as many strawberries as possible, with even my juice-smeared children ready to stop picking and eating once our time is up.
The verdict? “They all look the same but tasted different,” one daughter says, claiming to have eaten an impressive 32, after counting out the stalks. “I loved it, they were just like sweeties,” says the other.
Kawana Farm (kawana.itigo.jp) offers all-you-can-eat, 30-minute strawberry picking sessions from December or January through May, depending on the season. The price is adjusted according to the time of year (and abundance of strawberries), starting at ¥900 for adults and children from elementary school age; ¥500 for children aged 3 to 6; and ¥300 for those aged 2 and under. Reservations recommended.
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