Springtime is strawberry time in Japan

Springtime is strawberry time in Japan

by Takahiro Takiguchi
Stripes Japan

In Japan, strawberry picking is a popular spring activity. When the fruits become ready to pick in early January, many families flock to strawberry farms, some even making a trip to famed picking spots in mountainous regions, to enjoy the sweet, red fruit in season.

Recently, my wife and I visited a farm in Atsugi City in search of the taste of spring.

Located in the middle of a green field along the Sagami River, Sugiyama Strawberry Farm is a scenic farm against the backdrop of Mount Fuji and other mountain ranges.

Known as one of the most popular strawberry picking sites in the region, 3,000 to 5,000 people visit the farm throughout the season, with no less than 100-120 visitors each weekend, according to the owner Hiroshi Sugiyama.

“Many American service members and their family members have visited us,” he said.

An admission of 1,400 yen ($13) got us inside the greenhouse. Sugiyama gave us condensed milk in a plastic cup to dip our strawberries, and showed us how to find and pick the sweet fruit.

Sugiyama gave us the same advice he gives to those who go picking.

“Choose smaller berries that are red, as they are usually sweeter and tastier than big ones,” he said. “And white berries don’t mean they weren’t ripe. They are ripe and tasty, just like red one. So, pick both red and white fruits and compare them with each other.”

Although Atsugi has moderate climate and temperature, which is suitable for farming strawberries, Sugiyama grows the strawberries in greenhouse, like most of other farms throughout the country. The reasoning according to Sugiyama is that the greenhouse protects from wind, rain, birds and insects.

Six types of 9,000 strawberry seedlings are cultivated in the Sugiyama’s greenhouse, and three of them, Akihime, Sachinoka and Benihoppe, are available for picking.

“These three brands of strawberries are suitable for picking, as they rise and bear flowers and fruits very quickly,” Sugiyama said.

It was fun to pick different types of strawberries and compare their textures and flavors with each other. Sachinoka was smaller, crispier and sourer than the others, while Akihime was larger and had a soft, springy texture with a sweeter taste. Benihoppe, which is a crossbreed of the two, was large and bright red with a well-balanced taste.

The strawberries are grown higher than ground level, which made it easier to pick.

“The high planters allow anybody, from small children to seniors in a wheelchair, enjoy picking our juicy, tasty strawberries,” Sugiyama said.

There was no need to wash the berries at the farm. They were grown in a clean environment, so we could eat them as is. According to Sugiyama, the strawberries are grown in soil that contains organic fertilizer to make them sweeter and tastier.

While walking around in greenhouse, I probably ate 50 or more strawberries within the 30 minutes. It was really fun and the berries tasted great.

Strawberry picking at the farm can be enjoyed until around the consecutive Japanese holidays, referred to as “Golden Week,” in early May. So, don’t miss your chance to stop by if you are near Atsugi City.

For those who can’t visit Atsugi, there are a number of great strawberry picking spots around the Kanto Plain, such as Yokosuka, Miura, Hiratsuka and Tama. Find one near your installation and enjoy the taste of spring in Japan.

Sugiyama Ichigo-en (strawberry farm)

“All-you-can-eat for 30 minutes.”
Hours: Wed. – Mon., 10 a.m. – 3 p.m.
Fee: 1,400 yen ($13)
Location: 1822 Toda, Atsugi City, Kanagawa Prefecture
Tel: 046-228-1906 / 090-5213-0922 (Japanese)
Email: nrn28098@nifty.com

Strawberry Farms in Kanto Plain

Tsukuihama Kanko Farm
Yokosuka City, Kanagawa Pref.
Open until May 5, 9 a.m. - 3 p.m., All-you-can-eat (30 minutes), 1,200 yen ($11). For reservations or more info, call 046-849-5001 or visit website.

Strawberry House
Ebina City, Kanagawa Pref.
Open until mid-June, 10 a.m., All-you-can-eat (30 min), 1,400 yen ($13), elementary and preschoolers 1,200 yen. For reservations or more info, call 046-238-2750 or visit website.

Fukai Farm
Saitama City, Saitama Pref.
Open until May 9, Tue., Wed., Fri., 11 a.m. - 3:30 p.m., Sat- Sun, 10 a.m. - noon, 
All-you-can-eat (30 minutes): ages 13 and older: 1,800 yen (about $17); ages 6-12 1,500 yen; ages 3-5, 1,200 yen
For reservation or more information, call 048-794-1243 or visit website.

Niikura Farm 
Tama City, Tokyo
Open until late May, Mon. – Fri., 1:30-4 p.m., Sat., Sun. and holidays, 10 a.m. – 4 p.m., sold by weight (324 yen ($2.50) per 100g).  For reservations or more info, call 080-1173-1346 or visit website.

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