Picking Fruit on Tokyo's Doorstep

Discover where you can go fruit picking just one hour from the center of the city.

Fruits park Urawa union entrance (2020)Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries

There are perhaps a surprising number of people these days that have never seen the type of fruit they regularly enjoy eating actually growing on a tree in real life. One way that urbanites can experience fruit in the environment it grows in is via the increasingly popular pick-your-own fruit model that many farms geared towards visitors have introduced. One such farm is located in the Minuma Tanbo (Minuma Rice Paddies) area of Midori Ward in Saitama City, a place that still retains its natural surroundings just 20-30km from the center of Tokyo, making it an easy spot for city folk to get away to for some fruit picking fun.

Pear farms (2020)Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries

Encounter fruit at its freshest best

Tourist farm FruitPark Urawa Co-op grows grapes and nashi pears on it’s 5,000m2 site in Minuma. The delicious fruit grown by Kazuo Moriya, Eizaemon Suzuki, and Hiroaki Masuda, the main managers of the farm, has been well-received via word of mouth, and come harvest season in August/September, the farm is visited by many from near and far. Despite the nashi only being sold direct, customers often form a long line before opening time in expectation of sweet, fresh ripe nashi and a delicious experience that can only be obtained when eating fruit just picked off the tree.

Grape picking (2020)Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries

While the nashi are picked by the experts, visitors can come and pick their own grapes off the rows of vines. About 15 grape varieties grown here, among them some prototypes. In addition to the popular Kyoho and Fujiminori varieties, the Minumahime and Minumaden, both named after the local district, are particular favorites. Kazuo Moriya is very particular about cultivating grapes that convey their true, delicious taste.

Representative of Fruits Park Urawa Union, Mr. Kazuo Moriya (2020)Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries

“The number of seedless varieties has been increasing in recent years, but grapes are supposed to have seeds. We mainly have seeded varieties here because we want people to experience grapes in their true state. The ones with seeds actually have a higher sugar content and are sweeter! And you know, so many people like to peel their grapes — I personally like to eat them, skin and all. The skin of purple grapes contains a type of polyphenol called resveratrol, a substance involved in the activation of the body’s longevity genes, so it’s really good for you!”

Fruits park Urawa union. Farm owners Mr. Hiroaki Masuda (left), Mr. Kazuo Moriya (middle), Mr.Eizaemon Suzuki (right) (2020)Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries

One benefit of picking your own fruit is being able to experience how good it tastes straight from the tree (or, the vine, in this case); another is seeing how and where the fruit actually grows. “It’s because you know these things that you can then choose your fruit wisely as a consumer,” remarks Moriya. The act of looking at the fruit with your own eyes, selecting which to take, and then picking is like being in a living classroom, offering a lesson for those who come to the farm to take home with them. Moriya says that as a grape grower, he too is learning on a daily basis.

Grapes just harvested (2020)Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries

“I started growing fruit 32 years ago, when I was about 40. I’d like to continue teaming up with other farmers in the area, studying together and improving our methods while we cultivate fruit that doesn’t ‘cheat’ consumers. I approach growing the fruit with the feeling that I am studying today, and every day!”

Children running around blueberry fields (2020)Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries

Delighting in the taste of fresh blueberries

Not far from the Minuma Tanbo area is Blueberry Plaza Urawa, a pick-your-own blueberry farm. Around 22 different varieties are grown in nine plots spread over the 4.5 ha site, each with its particular ripening time and fruit characteristics.

Blueberries (2020)Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries

Paying the entrance fee, you can set off on your hunt for plump blueberries, choosing to either eat your fill on the spot or, for a weight-based fee, take what you pick home. Fresh blueberries are relatively expensive to buy even at the market, so the opportunity to be able to enjoy their delicious taste at the farm and take them home to make jams and so on for a reasonable fee is very popular indeed. For many people, once is not enough and they come to Blueberry Plaza Urawa several times during the June-August harvest season.

Blueberries (2020)Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries

White, pink, dark purple: blueberries on the branches at different stages of the ripening process look like they have been placed on the bushes as some kind of fashionable accessory. “The sight of fruit on the blueberry bushes is magnificent to behold, but the bushes are also quite beautiful in May when they are covered in white flowers or in autumn when the leaves all turn a deep red,” says managing director, Yukihiro Bito. Over 100 varieties of blueberries exist, but after much experimentation, Bito has selected and planted those that provide the most delicious berries.

Representative of Blueberry Plaza Urawa, Mr. Yukihiro Bitou (2020)Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries

“The color, size, and flavor vary depending on the variety. Some can grow up to 500-yen coin dimensions! (26.5mm diameter) The key to identifying the sweetest fruit is looking to see if they are dark-colored all the way around and plump. By the way, the white coating you see on blueberries is called ‘bloom’ and it helps protect the fruit from the strong summer sun. It’s actually a sign of their freshness. “

Blueberry harvest (2020)Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries

Harvested blueberries (2020)Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries

Bito says the most difficult part of cultivating blueberries is pruning them back in the winter months.

“I spend my time in the colder months pruning the branches. You will damage the bushes if you don’t prune when they are dormant, so they have to be cut back when it’s cold. However, we have so many bushes here, I basically spend three full months, from December to about March, doing it! Making woodchips from the branches you cut and sprinkling them around the base of the bushes helps nourish the soil. Speaking of the soil: if you dig down about 50 centimeters or so in the Minuma area, you find a layer of peat, acidic soil consisting of partially decomposed organic matter. Peat is an excellent medium for growing blueberries in, so I tend the bushes while trying to keep the soil at just the right acidity level.”

Mrs. Chiemi Bidou selling blueberry shaved ice (2020)Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries

Blueberry shaved ice (2020)Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries

Visitors who have been out in the hot sun busily picking blueberries are in for a special treat afterwards at Blueberry Plaza Urawa: the kiosk sells kakigori shaved ice dessert generously topped with an original blueberry syrup in addition to delicious blueberry juice, both made from the berries they grow.

Fruit sandwich using seasonal fruits (2020)Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries

Gourmet sandwiches made with fruit selected by a pro

The quintessentially Japanese fruit sandwich has been attracting particular attention in recent years as a way of enjoying many types of fruit. The fruit sandwich is said to have originated in the early Showa Period (1912-1989) and took on particular forms as it spread around Japan; in the Kanto region you can find the rectangular style, while Kyoto settled on a square. Meanwhile, the Tokai region decided triangular-shaped sandwiches was for them! Each fruit sandwich maker has their own distinct way of combining the fruit and fresh cream; not quite a sandwich in the traditional sense, not quite a dessert, the ever-evolving fruit sandwich continues to occupy a unique position in the Japanese food world.

Fruit Parlour 808. Line after opening (2020)Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries

Fruit Parlor 808 is a fruit sandwich specialty store located in front of Soka Station in Saitama’s Soka City, just southeast of Minuma, that is very particular about highlighting the deliciousness of the fruit it uses. Since opening in May 2019, the store has quickly become renowned for its tasty sandwiches and fans are often seen lining up each day to buy their furutsu sando, as they are called in Japanese.

Fruits Parlour 808 representative Mr. Shin Nagahama (2020)Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries

Osamu Nagahama, owner of Fruit Parlor 808, is somewhat of a pro, having formerly operated a fruit and vegetable store in the same area. Nagahama prides himself in having a keen eye for selecting the best fruit in season from around the country and using them in his creations when they are at their ripest.

Fruits Parlour 808 representative Mr. Jin Nagahama (2020)Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries

“I only make use of the fruit that I taste test myself and think is delicious. My policy is to include the fruit that is the best on any given day; the sandwich lineup for the day is decided every morning. Each day I have to make some quick decisions about, of course, the freshness of the fruit, but also which will be the tastiest to create the sandwiches for the day from.”

Putting fresh cream on (2020)Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries

Prior to opening his store, Nagahama set off around the country in search of fruit sandwiches. It was the Tokai style sandwich he encountered in Shizuoka that especially caught his eye — and taste buds. Upon his return to Saitama, he relied on his taste memory as he set about creating his own recipe.

“Fruit takes the leading role in our sandwiches. That is why we make sure the cream is not too sweet so that there is a more pronounced fruit flavor. The bread we use is an original made just for us here in Soka — it has a slightly saltier flavor than regular bread to better pair with the fruit. We also try and not let anything go to waste; fruit that is too ripe to put into the sandwiches is used in jellies or fruit-infused water and so on.”

Fruit sandwich (2020)Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries

Nagahama’s switch from being a greengrocer to starting his own fruit sandwich specialty store came about not only from a desire to offer people something delicious.

“When I was running the fruit and veg shop, I was in a bit of a bind because everyone was looking for the cheapest produce. If you are to beat other stores on price, you have to buy from the suppliers cheaply. To bow your head to farmers, asking them to lower their prices... it was really painful for me. I thought after all the painstaking work the farmers put into growing the fruit, there had to be a way of having consumers buy it not based on its monetary price, but on its true value. It was then when I hit upon the idea of fruit sandwiches. For the farmers out there working hard to cultivate great-tasting fruit as much as the customers, I want to create fruit sandwiches that are not part of some short-lived trend, but something that people keep coming back for.”

Staff Ms. Misa Nojiri (left), and Ms. Eri Inanobe (right) (2020)Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries

Credits: Story

Cooperation with:

Fruit Park Urawa Association
Blueberry Plaza Urawa
Fruit Parlor 808

Photos: Yuka Uesawa
Text: Orika Uchiumi
Edit: Saori Hayashida

Production: Skyrocket Corporation

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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