Berry Picking and Japanese Sweets of Fresh, Juicy Local Strawberries Offered in Izunokuni, Japan’s Shizuoka Pref.

The Japan News
Fresh strawberry in a greenhouse of Ema Strawberry Picking Center

IZUNOKUNI, Shizuoka — Strawberry picking season has begun in Izunokuni, one of the biggest production sites of the berries in Shizuoka Prefecture. In the city located at the door of the Izu Peninsula, tourists can enjoy picking fresh strawberries as well as sweets using the fruit.

In late January, I visited the Ema Strawberry Picking Center, the biggest strawberry picking facility in the Izu area, with 90 greenhouses. Visitors are allowed to pick and eat an unlimited amount of the fruit for 30 minutes.

At first, I thought 30 minutes is too short but found myself full with sweet and sour juice of the berries in no time. The center has two varieties’ of strawberries — Benihoppe and Akihime — at its greenhouses.

According to Takashi Ina, head of the Ema strawberry picking cooperative, Benihoppe is well known for its good balance of sweet and sourness, while Akihime is a softer and sweeter variety. When I was guided to a greenhouse of Benihoppe, I learned that this variety, when immediately picked is much juicier and riper than what’s sold in Tokyo. I’m a native of Numazu, a neighboring city of Izunokuni, but became accustomed to ordinary strawberries sold at supermarkets in Tokyo, where I live now.

The Japan News
Fresh strawberry in a greenhouse of Ema Strawberry Picking Center

“Many foreign guests, mainly from Asian countries, visit us,” Ina said.

Visitors’ cars are guided by the center to a designated greenhouse. Visitors without a vehicle can be driven to a greenhouse by the center.

Strawberry picking is open through May 5. Until March 31, admission is ¥2,000 for 4th grade elementary schoolchildren and above, ¥1,700 for children aged 3 and above up to 3rd grade elementary schoolers, and free for toddlers two or younger. Each fee will lower by ¥400 beginning April 1.

For details, visit official site (Japanese/Chinese/English/Korean) .

The Japan News
Strawberry flower seen in a greenhouse of Ema Strawberry Picking Center

Strawberry-stuffed mochi

In a different sightseeing location in the Ema area, many visitors are drawn to ichigo daifuku (mochi stuffed with sweet bean paste and strawberry). Ichigo Plaza is a rest stop that houses a confectionery shop, souvenir shop and a restaurant, near Ema Interchange of Izu Chuodo road.

I drop by Ichigo Plaza to buy ichigo daifuku whenever I visit the Ema area. It’s a must-buy for me. The combination of fresh strawberry picked in the morning and soft mochi is great. The facility uses white bean paste, although red bean is more common for daifuku. When asked, Takahiko Nakahara of Ichigo Plaza said, “We made a special white bean paste to bring out the full flavor of fresh strawberries.”

The Japan News
Ichigo Plaza’s ichigo daifuku

The Ichigo daifuku priced at ¥400 can also be bought at shops in JR Mishima Station and Numazu Port, both in the same prefecture, as well as online, including the facility’s official online shop.

Daifuku ordered online gets delivered to customers the day after they are made. Ichigo Plaza asks customer to follow its expiration date: by the end of the day of delivery.

“That’s why we named our product sold online as “Gozen reiji no ichigo daifuku” (ichigo daifuku at midnight), like Cinderella who turns back into an ordinary girl after midnight.” During winter and spring, they use local berries, while in summer and autumn fruit from Hokkaido and other places are used. For details, visit official site (Japanese only) .

The Japan News
Ichigo Plaza’s signboard along the Izu Chuodo road