I love strawberries. Happily, there’s a delightful spring traditional in Japan known as ichigo gari, strawberry hunting.
My quest for the perfect strawberry began after a Japanese colleague asked whether I liked the fruit. Once I responded in the affirmative, she let me in on the fun of ichigo gari.
Strawberry hunting sounds far more exciting than mere strawberry picking.
The Miura Peninsula is well-known for its agriculture. It’s also easily accessible from both Tokyo and Yokosuka.
The last time I picked strawberries at a commercial venue, it was at an outdoor farm in the U.S. I was surprised to learn that the Japanese grow (and pick) their strawberries from indoor greenhouses. The strawberries that are produced are exquisite: vibrant red, firm, and tasty all the way through.
Ready to stuff yourself full of luscious berries?
How to Get There – The Process
Strawberry season in Yokosuka runs from late December to May.
- Locate a strawberry greenhouse and confirm their availability and prices. (Because my Japanese still isn’t up to par, I went to one specifically marketed as a tourist farm.)
- Purchase a ticket from the farm. Tickets are priced are based on the season. The most expensive strawberries are in December and January, when tickets cost ¥2000 ($15.55). If you wait for April, the prices slide down to ¥1400 ($10.89).
- To ensure that there are ample strawberries to choose from, the farm cleverly “rotates” the greenhouses that are open to guests. After the ripe strawberries at a greenhouse have been picked, they seal off the greenhouse until the berries are again ripe. We were given a map and directed to proceed to Greenhouse Number 2.
- Once at Greenhouse 2, we turned in our tickets and received an entirely new set of guidance.
Please be kind to our young fruits and plants.Sign in English
Let the Hunt Begin!
One of the reasons the strawberries in Japan are so luscious is because the Japanese are meticulous about rules and procedure. There are diagrams at the entrance outlining what one can and cannot do, and instructions on how to properly pick a strawberry.
- After handing your ticket to a staff member, you’ll be given a small, clear plastic tray with a small portion of white sauce. What is the white sauce? Melted white chocolate? No! (Although that does sound delicious.) It’s sweetened condensed milk. As a Westerner, I’ve previously only had strawberries with powdered sugar or cream. Rest assured, the condensed milk pairs wonderfully with fresh strawberries – the combination is sheer genius.
- You’ll be directed to pick from a particular section of the greenhouse. This method ensures there are enough fresh strawberries to go around. Once the section is “out” of ripe strawberries, a new section will open.
- You have 30 minutes to eat till your heart’s content. Each strawberry must be picked and eaten at the greenhouse: there is no take-out. If you want to take strawberries home, you’ll have to purchase packages separately.
Enjoy…But Don’t Overeat!
It is bewildering to see SO MANY PERFECT strawberries. My eyes went everywhere. I was also struck by the beautiful white blossoms atop the plants. There’s a sign in English with a note that there are honey bees amongst the plants for pollination, and to “please be kind” to them, as the “bees are quite docile”. We saw no bees while there. If we had, I would have thanked them for doing such. a fabulous job.
Last year, I got a little too excited by the strawberries. After counting the leaves on my tray I realized I had eaten 32. My stomach hurt. This year, I limited myself to 20.
The sweetened condensed milk is now the ONLY pairing I want for fresh strawberries. Alas – the small portion goes by so fast. The farm would make a fortune if they sold individual containers separately.
Fortunately, several grocery stores in Yokosuka understand the popularity of the pairing. During a grocery store run, I was thrilled to see a tube of the condensed milk and bought it to go with a package of strawberries.
It is so good!
Tasty Strawberry Delights
One of the many things I love about Japan is how much respect they have for the seasons. It’s still in the very early stages of strawberry season, and there are clever ways the fruit is making an appearance in snacks and desserts. You can find strawberries covered in mochi, as a jam inside a strawberry breakfast bun, and as a cold pudding.
My all-time favorite strawberry snack can be found on the path leading to Kamakura’s Tsurugaoka Hachiman-gū shrine. A single glazed strawberry is served on a stick, atop what looks like a Ritz cracker. It looks unremarkable and (at ¥200), overpriced.
However, it is absolute heaven. The crunch of the glaze hits the salt and crunch of the cracker, and then the sweetness of the strawberry smacks you in the face. Try it and brace yourself for bliss.
If You Go
There are several farms on the Miura Penninsula with strawberry greenhouses. Strawberry hunting is a popular, family-friendly activity, particularly on the weekend. The earlier in the day you visit, the better.
The greenhouse I took my family to was Tsukuihama Tourist Farm. Parking is available for those who drive there. If you don’t have a car, the closest train station is Keikyu-Nagasawa station, followed by an easy 1.2 mile walk.
Recommendation: if you prefer wild strawberries and want an unforgettable strawberry hunt in Japan, head for Mt. Fuji. A friend and I discovered hundreds of tiny, bright red strawberries growing wild on the woods alongside the paved road to Station 5. They were extraordinary! Note: unfortunately, the only way (I know of) to find and taste these strawberries is to WALK on the Fujinomiya Trail. You’ll never find them by taking the bus, since most station climbs already begin above tree-level.
Regardless of how you choose to hunt your strawberries, here’s wishing you a happy and delicious adventure!