Cherries

Japan is far more famous for its cherry blossoms than it is the actual fruit. Which is a shame, because Japanese cherries are DELICIOUS.

During April, Japan erupts with cherry blossoms in glorious hues of pink and prices at tourist destinations skyrocket as photographers compete for the best angles. However, the fruit from these lovely cherry trees is small, dark, and inedible. Several websites caution that the leaves, pits, and stems are toxic.

The edible cherry fruit was introduced to Japan from the West at the beginning of the Meiji Period (1868-1912). In the early 1900s, Japan began cultivating the Satonishiki variety of cherry, considered to be Japan’s “king of cherries”.

If you’re in the mood for some seriously succulent cherries, Yamagata Prefecture is Japan’s largest producer of edible cherries and pears. I chose to do my cherry picking a little closer to home, at a fruit farm in Yamanashi Prefecture. By golly, it was fabulous!

Japanese cherries

Japanese Cherries

A friend help me make a reservation at a local farm, where a friendly woman greeted me by name. I paid ¥2500 ($17.92) for a half hour in the greenhouse and was given a small white plastic bag to spit the cherry pits in.

Although it was raining, the trees were carefully protected under coverings. In addition to Satonishiki, I sampled Beni-shuho, Beni-sayaka, Beni-yutaka, and dozens of other trees. There were 30 species of cherry trees, with the high-end cherries – whose precious fruit retails for ¥7000-8000 per kilo – off to one section.

Although there were sturdy and well-designed ladders throughout the greenhouse, because I am tall they were unnecessary – all I had to do was reach up and pluck.

A farmer borrowed a smart phone from a young man (her son?), and provided a tour using Google Translate. She took me from tree to tree, explaining the name and flavor characteristics of each variety. I actually picked very few cherries myself. (In their hospitality, the farmers kept finding me and dropping ripe and perfectly glossy handfuls in my palm.)

As a result, I quickly got stuffed. I finally had to protest with some embarrassment that I could not eat any more.

The woman’s wonderfully kind face grew sad. She typed rapidly into the borrowed smart phone and turned the screen so I could read the translation.

Mr. Katy did not eat very much.”

I was astounded – there were at least 60 cherry pits in my bag! I assured her the cherries were the best I’d ever had, but that I had never eaten so many at one time. Curious, I asked her how many she normally ate.

It seems the average guest consumes 100. A twenty year old set the record by downing 200 cherries in the allocated 30 minutes.

A Fruit Growing Paradise

Yamanashi Prefecture is often referred to as a “Fruit Kingdom” in Japan. In addition to cherries, it is renowned for the caliber of its peaches and grapes.

I was curious what these cherries would taste like. From experience with American cherries, the bright red or yellow-tinged color would tell me to expect tart. Instead, the fruit was fleshier, firmer, and sweet. They were divine. Only one of the varieties she showed me was acidic. Because she warned me in advance that it would taste sour, she only plucked one from that tree.

If you’re not in the mood for cherries, there are so many options and seasons to celebrate your favorite fruit. Peach season is from August to October, and if you head to Yamanashi in the winter, you’ll see the roofs orange from persimmons hung up to dry.

Erinji Temple

Don’t just call it a day after you’re finished picking fruit!

If you’re in Yamanashi, I highly suggest checking out a local temple. The most famous one is Erinji Temple, where Takeda Shingen – one of Japan’s most famous warriors – is buried. One of the temple’s unique features are its “nightingale” floors. Apply the slightest bit of pressure to the wooden boards, and it will sound like the sweet singing of dozens of birds. What sounds like a music concert is actually a clever security feature designed to alert inhabitants to intruders. Why not test your stealth skills?

Another distinctive feature that makes Erinji Temple unforgettable is its Tainai Meguri, a literally pitch-black corridor that you have to navigate in order to reach the famous 700 year old garden. It’s an unnerving experience. Usually, darkness is a good sign the area is off-limits. However, rest assured that you are absolutely meant to pass through the corridor. The experience is said to represent being inside the womb of a female Bodhisattva and being reborn after reaching the light from the other side.

After awkwardly groping your way through the darkness you’ll exit into bright sunlight and one of the most gorgeous gardens I’ve ever seen.

If You Go

I traveled to Yamanashi prefecture during Memorial Day weekend, which aligned with the start of Rainy Season. The purpose was two-fold: to pick cherries and check out Japanese vineyards. I love Japanese fruit farms. It is astounding how much care goes into growing beautiful produce. One of my favorite spring activities is Ichigo Gari (strawberry hunting). I love strawberry hunting so much, I was certain the same would be true of cherry picking.

The journey took 3.5 hours by train from Yokosuka. Because there are few signs in English, it does require a certain degree of confidence to venture to this part of Japan. Rest assured: it is so worth the effort!

If you are coming all the way to Yamanashi, I strongly recommend pairing a fruit-picking trip with an overnight stay. The region is famous as the birthplace of Japanese wine, and you can have a fabulous stay and PHENOMENAL food and drink for a fraction of what you would spend in Napa Valley.

Here’s wishing you a safe and happy adventure!

By Katie Cerezo

Thank you so much for visiting. 😊 I have always loved traveling, and my legs are my primary means of transportation. It's a beautiful world, and I'm eager to explore it…one step at a time.

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