Fresh fruit is one of the best things to eat during a long, hot summer. But instead of picking up the pre-packaged lonely banana at the combini, why not try roaming the fields to pick your own fruit salad? It’s the perfect family day out, or excuse to drag your friends away from the beer garden for a different experience.
“We recommend fruit-picking to people who would like to have a new experience in Japan,” explains Naomi Ota from J.T.B. Global Marketing and Travel, a tourism operator that offers fruit picking tours all over Japan. “Most of our customers are families or small groups. I think it is really popular because of the interest people have in Japanese food culture. For families with children it is a great opportunity for them to experience something new.”
So how do those who are interested in fruit-picking get in on the fun? First, you have to choose what kind of fruit you want to pick. While strawberries are always popular with couples, grapes, oranges, pears and peaches can be a lot more fun for kids. There are plenty of companies that offer tours to pick all these and more all over Japan. However, if you go through a tour company, be aware that a typical tour will start early. Expect to have to meet the group between 7am and 8am, which can be a little early for toddlers.
If this sounds a little too early, there is a lot of fun to be had by simply picking up a day pack and tramping down dirt tracks to find fruit farms on your own. “Most of the farms are way out in the boonies, so be prepared for that, and don’t expect them to be found locally,” cautions Shannon Yukumi- Field, who spent a day picking pears in Osaka. “Once you arrive, the rest is easy. First you pay a flat rate and you receive a bucket that you put the fruit in. For that rate, you can basically pick and eat as many pears as you like and you have no time limit. All-in-all it was a good day.”
Fruit picking tips:
• While a lot of places offer water to clean the fruit or state that the fruit is safe to eat, it is recommended that you take a bottle of water to clean off any dirt from the berries.
• Make sure that you enquire first about whether you need to reserve or not. Some places have turned visitors without reservations away on busy days!
While you may imagine that picking fruit is straightforward, there are in fact a lot of techniques concerning how you should do it. Generally speaking, you should be gentle with the fruit, as excessive force can damage the berries, or even worse, uproot them and cover you with dirt. The most common techniques involve lifting the stem and twisting off the fruit or holding the stem and gently plucking off the fruit. The farm you visit should be able to advise you which method is most suitable for the fruit you want to pick. At most farms the fruit will be arranged in rows. However, if your child is very young, be aware that they may require assistance to reach the fruit that catches their eye. Similarly not all fruit are equal and care should be taken to make sure that unripe or rotten fruit isn’t consumed by an overeager child while your back is turned.
A recent ehow article recommends a simple checklist to ensure that you get the best value for money from your experience. First you should check the fruit colour. According to the Yokoso Japan website, which offers tours from Kansai, this means “deep purple” for grapes, “skin coloured evenly in red or pink (with) fuzz or short hairs on the surface” for peaches and strawberries with “clear and sharp pimples”, “a hull in fresh green” and “a skin evenly coloured in vivid red”. Next, ehow recommends that you “squeeze the fruit to feel if it has the right amount of firmness”. Then check the stem: a “rock hard” stem is usually best avoided.
Finally, bring the fruit close to smell it and “look for a shiny lustre”. After all these checks have been done, you can enjoy your reward knowing that you are eating the pick of the orchard. For families with young kids, a lot of fun can also be had thinking up some ridiculous mnemonics for these steps (My attempt: Chubby Sailors Saluted Sparkly Ladies!!!) or drawing up a colourful checklist.
As well as being lots of fun, fruit picking is a great way of addressing the problem that children today no longer know where their food comes from. The classic joke of children believing that milk comes from the supermarket and eggs from a box is rapidly becoming a reality. So while the kids enjoy muddy fun as they pick the fruits, it is also a good chance to educate them about how fruits grow and the work that goes into producing even the most simple foods. Expect to come home with a child covered in mud, educated and very happy.
柏原市観光 ぶどうセンター (Kashiwarashi Kankou Budou Center)
072-971-8308 フルーツランド天野さん (Fruits Land Amanosan)
京都竹中葡萄園 (Kyoto Takenaka Budouen)
丹波高原山下フルーツガーデン(Tanba Kougen Shimoyama Fruits Garden)
0771-83-0264 美山町自然文化村 (Miyamachou Shizen Bunka Mura)
赤阪みかんがり園 (Akasa Mikan Garien)
• To learn more about fruit picking tours visit Club Tourism Yokoso (yokoso-japan.jp/en).
• Kishigawa’s Ichigogari Kyokai (kishiwada-f.jp) has one of the largest strawberry farms in Kansai.
• Kobe residents are well catered for by the Kobe Municipal Fruits and Flower Park (fruit-flowerpark.jp/fruit_hunting). Depending on the season there are a lot of different fruits that can be picked. By far the best month is August when grapes and peaches are at their best.
• Savor farm (savor-farm.or.jp) remains popular for the range of things that can be picked there.
• Grand berry (grandberry.net/gb) remains one of the best places for strawberries in Kansai.