Taste of Japan: Miura Peninsula home of sweet, fresh watermelon

Photos by Takahiro Takiguchi
Photos by Takahiro Takiguchi

Taste of Japan: Miura Peninsula home of sweet, fresh watermelon

by Takahiro Takiguchi
Stripes Japan

Emerald terraced fields stretch out against a backdrop of blue sea under the bright sun. Thousands of watermelons line up in the foliage awaiting harvest. This is more than a scenic landscape. This is Miura City, a famed watermelon-growing district 35 miles south of Tokyo.

Farmers here on the Miura Peninsula have been cultivating watermelons for 130 years. Currently, 189 farmers work their fields to produce 2,453 tons of watermelon annually (as of 2020.) Miura watermelon is a special Kanagawa Prefecture product. It is renowned for being sweet and juicy.

“I am confident that Miura watermelon is the best in Japan,” said Tsuyoshi Deguchi, a spokesman of Miura City Agricultural Association. “The sugar content of watermelon usually is 9-13 percent, but most of our watermelons have more than 14 or 15 percent.”

The average annual temperature of Miura City is 62 degrees Fahrenheit. The warm temperatures and abundant sunshine help give the watermelons their flavor. Deguchi said the time of harvest is also important. 

“We always harvest watermelons before dawn, about 4:30 to 5 a.m.,” he said.  “It may sound strange, but if you pick them in the day under the bright sunshine, they will lose at least 2 to 3 percent of their sugar content. I think harvesting them in early morning puts less stress on watermelons and that keeps them sweet and fresh.”

Cultivating the melons is time-consuming and hard work. The seedlings are planted in late April and harvested three months later in the summer. 

“The hardest time for watermelon cultivation is between late of May and June when we have to thin out the watermelon vines,” Deguchi said. “And around that time typhoons usually come that may damage our products. When a typhoon comes, we cannot sleep. We stay up all night to monitor the fields and prevent the watermelons from being damaged.”

The intensive labor combined with a decrease in demand is one reason Deguchi said production has been down in recent years. But watermelon is still an indispensable summer food in Japan that is associated with family gatherings and summer vacations. (Since it is about 90 percent water by weight, it is an ideal thirst quencher as well as rich in vitamins C and A.)

You can buy Miura watermelon at any vending booth along the streets of Miura City or at major supermarkets throughout the Kanto Plain for about 1,000 to 2,500 yen ($7.70-$19) in the summertime. Generally, the bigger the melon, the sweeter and tastier it is – no salt, or even chilling, is required. Why not buy a large one and share it with your neighbors? 

“I encourage you to taste Miura watermelon,” Deguchi said. “Then you will see how delicious Japanese watermelon is.

Miura Watermelon Fields

Location: Miura City, Kanagawa Pref.

By car: Hayashi IC of Miura Jukan Road (an hour from Tokyo)

By train: Misakiguchi Station on Keikyu Line (an hour and a half from Tokyo)

For more about Miura watermelon, call Miura City Agricultural Association at 046-888-9005.

“Suika wari” is a Japanese game that uses a watermelon similar to a piñata. It is often played at the beach or various school events during summertime. A challenger is blindfolded and guided by shouts of surrounding people as he or she approaches the melon, which is placed about 20 to 30 feet away. The object is to and split it with a stick. Afterward, a healthier snack than candy is available.

Farmers in Zentsuji City, Kagawa Prefecture grow unique cube, heart and various other shaped watermelons. They put the melons in a cube- or heart-shaped transparent case when it is still small. As the watermelon grows, it takes on the shape. As these watermelons have to be harvested before they are fully ripe, the taste is not very good. But they keep a long time and are popular for various displays.  Each of the cubic watermelon usually costs about 10,000 yen ($77).

Watermelon may be considered a fruit by many because of its sweet flavor, but it is actually a member of the Cucurbitaceae family of gourds such as cucumber, squash or pumpkin. It is planted from seeds or seedlings, harvested and cleared from the field like other vegetables. Since melon is grown using a vegetable production system, the Japan Agricultural Administration Office considers it a “fruit vegetable” along with tomatoes and strawberries. JAAO is not alone. The edible rind of watermelon is stir-fried, stewed and often pickled. In such cases, it is being used as a vegetable.

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