2017/05/10 What's On
Picking Your Own Food In Japan
by Jordan Mounteer
Although Japan is world-famous for its cuisine, ranging from everything to sushi to okonomiyaki to a whole variety of street food, something that is often understated – or in many cases unknown, even to those who live there – is that there are plenty of places where you can pick your own food! Generally most of these are related to fresh produce, especially berries and fruits. As summer approaches and we enter the green-growing phase, here are some ideas and locations around Japan where you can (either as a group or by yourself) head out to pick your food by hand. The ability to actually see where food comes from, to understand the process behind something getting from the garden to plate, has arguably become more and more important, especially for those people who live in the city but are adopting a more sustainable perspective.
Kawatsura Strawberry Farm
Just a short train ride away from the bustling metropolis of Tokyo, the Kawatsura Strawberry Farm in Chiba is a great stop for anyone wanting to experience the abundance of mother nature, and hopefully get their fill of strawberries along the way. The farm is an expansive greenhouse complex, and the plants are carefully pruned and tended to in order to produce several varieties of juicy strawberries. In fact, after the long hard winter season, strawberries are actually a great way to regenerate some of the body’s immune systems – in fact, they actually contain more Vitamin C per weight than oranges, and have far less calories. This is a very popular location however, so be sure to phone ahead, especially if you plan to make an outing with a group. Another big bonus is that Kawatsura strive to grow their berries with as little chemical fertilizer as possible, and in their striving to move more toward organic practices it’s also a good choice for those of us who are health conscious.
Located along the Boso Peninsula, this is another excellent choice for those that are living in the Tokyo area but don’t want to leave Kanto in order to try their hand at picking their own food. The Mother Farm is actually a tourist attraction, and boasts a number of different activities, most significantly their flowers in early spring and summer. They really are a ‘farm’ in the conventional sense though, and have a wide variety of different animals and gardens, and it’s quite common to arrive just in time to catch a sheep herding demonstration – or, if you want a more hands on experience, a visit to their petting zoo replete with guinea pigs and rabbits. But it’s definitely their vegetable picking that caught our eye. And don’t worry, they’ll supply you with a basket. The rest is up to you.
This lovely and large orchard is located near Yamanashi, and have an excellent website that lists when some of their different fruits are ripe and ready to be harvested. These include everything from cherries to peaches, as well as plums, sweet nectarines, pears, apples, and (my favorite) persimmons. A Japanese favorite, persimmons often come on sale in the Japanese super markets around spring and into summer, and can be quite expensive, so having the opportunity to pick your own is both an economical way to eat healthy, and a fun one – like other orchards, it’s still a good idea to phone ahead and make reservations, or to get an idea of whether or not the fruit is in season. When you arrive, expect a short introduction as the staff on hand explain some of the best ways to pick the fruit (for example, with cherries it’s best to pick them so that their stems are attached – this allows them to keep for much longer than without their stems) and how to tell if they are ripe.
This chain of restaurants is a bit of a different take on picking your own food, but we wanted to include it here anyway. The restaurants tend to be a bit upper class, but their selling point is the fact that they are filled with aquariums and both fresh and salt water tanks full of different fish and aquatic critters. There are several of these in Tokyo and they feature a large dining area that resembles a boat, with the different tanks stretching out around you – however, if you want to eat, that means first approaching the tanks and using nets to catch your dinner! Some of the favorite dishes include eel, which is considered a bit of a delicacy in Japan due to the fact that they have incredible tender meat. You can also try their kabutoyaki, which is a grilled fish head (not for the squeamish). Maybe just stick with the squid.
Ohashi Cherry Farm
Not all fruits are that easy to pick – pears and apples especially may require heavy ladders, and can be quite heavy, and if you have a fear of heights it can be even worse. Thankfully, the Ohashi Cherry Farm in Hokkaido can put your mind at ease. The trees are all pruned and kept at a reasonable height that makes picking their fruit easy. The farm boasts a variety of different kinds of cherries, from sweet cherries to sour cherries, as wells a range of colors from deep purple to yellow. The weather type domes – sort of like covering greenhouses – also means that you won’t have to worry about being rained on! There’s also no time limit, which means you can literally pick as much as you want. This is a somewhat better system than other farms, where you’re given a short amount of time to pick as much as you can. In contrast, at Ohashi you can take your time and enjoy the experience without feeling pressured to speed through it.
Whatever your pleasure, there are farms across Japan, from Hokkaido to Shikoku, that are specially designed to offer everyday folk the opportunity to pick food with their own hands. Learning where our food comes from also helps instill a respect for the kind of hard work that goes into farming, and fruit always tastes better if you feel like you’ve earned it!
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