Sunday, April 19, 2015

Strawberry Picking in Tonosho

Spring is one of the most beautiful seasons in Japan.  After waking up to cold and dreary winter weather that never seems to end, the sun eventually comes out.  A few weeks later, cherry blossoms start to bloom all throughout Japan.  It is truly a beautiful sight.

Cherry Blossoms at Nagasaki Peace Park
And while cherry blossoms are the most common association with spring, I always associate strawberry season with spring.  Bright red and sweet, they are a welcome sight after a gray winter.  Strawberries are not only sold at supermarkets, but there are also farms where one can go and eat strawberries right off the vine.  All-you-can-eat strawberries, or いちご狩り(ichigo-gari), is a common activity among people living in my area.

The most famous area for strawberry picking in my area is Tonosho.  I had heard that not only are their strawberries sweet, but they can be as big as one’s palm.  A fellow ALT on the JET Program invited ALTs to go to one of the most famous farms in Tonosho for strawberry picking, so how could I say no!  A group of 12 foreigners, myself included, made our way to Sasagawa Station in Tonosho yesterday morning.
Outside of Sasagawa Station, Tonosho
After getting off the train, our friend led us through the small town towards the strawberry farm.  The Japanese people living there were clearly surprised to see such a large group of foreigners in their town, but they were very friendly to us.  

After walking for about 20 minutes through busy roads and rice fields, we finally arrived at Isoyama Strawberry Farm.
Isoyama Strawberry Farm
I don’t know if it was because we were such a big group, or if it was because the workers there knew our friend, but instead of paying the original 1,150 yen for 30 minutes of all-you-can-eat strawberries, we only had to pay 1,050 yen!  Only 100 yen, but every little bit helps.  After we paid, everyone received a blue tray with condensed milk (free, but if you want to get chocolate sauce instead, it’s an extra fee of 50 yen).

Then we were lead to the greenhouse by one of the workers.  As we were walking through the maze of greenhouses, the sweet aroma of strawberries was making my mouth water.  I was ready to get my hands on these famous strawberries!  Once we arrived at the greenhouse, the man in charge explained to us in Japanese that we could eat any of the strawberries in the greenhouse, but that the best strawberries were the ones that were completely red, all the way to the stem.  He also said that the bigger strawberries were in the back of the greenhouse.  With that, it was time to start eating!
Strawberry Picking

Inside the greenhouse

Strawberry that is as long as my fingers (Sorry for the terrible quality, I was a little too excited)
After we finished eating, we threw away the stems and put the trays in a pile.  I ate the most strawberries out of everyone (78, but my record in 109).  The workers also offered to give us a free ride back to the station in a bus!  I was very surprised that they had that kind of service.

Some things that I would like to mention to anyone who is interested in going here in the future to do strawberry picking:

1.      Look carefully at the strawberries before you pick them.  Some of the strawberries I picked were covered in mold.
2.      Although some of the strawberries were big, many of them were normal-sized or small.  All of them were sweet thought, so don’t let that dissuade you from trying them!
3.      When the strawberry season starts in January, the price is 1,700 yen for adults.  However, the later you go the cheaper it becomes.  Because of that, the size of strawberries/ amount that are growing also decreases.  I would try to go in March, since the size is probably bigger than in April, and it’s only 1,550 yen.
4.      Because Isoyama Strawberry Farm is quite famous, many people come here from all over Chiba/ Japan.  The best time to go would be in the morning, before big groups come in the afternoon.

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