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Sweet pickin’: Strawberries in Japan

Visitors to Japan might, quite reasonably, expect to sample sushi, sashimi and soba (the latter are, to us English speakers, noodles) … but strawberries?

Yes, you heard (or read, rather) me right: strawberries. I did indeed indulge in grilled eel, green tea and other typically Japanese delicacies on a recent trip to the country.

However, an unexpected, offbeat highlight of my four-day foray across Shizuoka Prefecture, southeast of Tokyo, turned out to be a steamy, lip-smacking half-hour spent in a sweltering greenhouse along Route 150, nicknamed the Strawberry Beach Road.

The route, which runs between the foot of Mount Kuno and glistening Suruga Bay, is lined with strawberry farms (collections of greenhouses, really) where, from January through early May, passersby can plop down some yen, grab a basket and pluck red berries to their hearts’ content in true all-you-can-eat style. (Off season, local shops still peddle strawberry-flavored juices, ice creams and such.)

I was famished after a jam-packed morning spent ogling distant Mount Fuji from the summit of Mount Nihondaira; riding the Nihondaira Ropeway cable car down to the spectacular, 16th century Kunozan Toshogu Shrine; and then descending 709-foot Mount Kuno on foot.

So, I devoted a good 30 minutes to an Ishigaki Strawberry Farm greenhouse, tucking into luscious local strawberry varieties such as akihime and benihoppe.

After plucking attractive candidates from among the stacks of warm bricks where the plants grew, I alternated between dipping them in sweet condensed milk and simply taking the bright-red berries plain.

That half-hour spent savoring strawberries set me back 1,500 yen ($14-$15, or about $30 per hour). I lost count of how much fruit I managed to eat in those 30 minutes but, given the fun and novelty factors, considered it money well spent. (Japan is, after all, the land of the $100 cantaloupe and $40 bunches of grapes — upscale department stores traffic in expensive, perfectly formed fruit, which locals give as gifts.)

For information on strawberry picking and more foodstuffs fun in Shizuoka, visit www.shizuoka-cvb.or.jp/tour_guide/en/delicacies.

In Japan, strawberries ready to pick in Shizuoka Prefecture.

 

In Japan, the author, Ken Kiesnoski, about to enjoy a strawberry treat.

 

BestTripChoices.com blogster Ken Kiesnoski is a New York-area freelance journalist specializing in travel and tourism. Most recently an editor at leading U.S. travel trade newspaper Travel Weekly, Ken started his travel-writing career at the former Leisure Travel News in 2000.

Having logged visits to more than 65 countries on six continents, he maintains his own travel blog at www.trek-ken.com, contributes to outlets such as Travel Weekly and collaborates with New York-based graphic-design firm Holtermann Design on tourism-related online projects such as Lighthouses of Europe (http://lighthousesofeurope.com), Lighthouses of Norway (www.lighthousesofnorway.com)and Train Journeys of the World (http://trainjourneysoftheworld.com). Ken can be reached at ken@trek-ken.com.