Winter strawberry picking tours offered on Okinawa

Travel

Winter strawberry picking tours offered on Okinawa

by: Takahiro Takiguchi | .
Stripes Okinawa | .
published: January 05, 2017

Though there is a chill in the air and snow on the ground in many areas, picking strawberries – from the Kanto Plain to Okinawa Island – is a popular activity this time of year in Japan.

Strawberry farms across the nation offer opportunities for visitors to pick, while travel agencies run tours to such famed picking spots as Tochigi or Shizuoka prefectures.

Originally, strawberries were harvested in early summer.  However, improvement of plant breeding and the introduction of house cultivation enabled them to be harvested months earlier. Today, the best time to pick strawberries is now.

Since the highest need for strawberries is the Christmas season, we improved breeds while introducing new facilities such as greenhouses to meet the needs,” said Hiroyuki Ohkuri of Kanto regional Agricultural Administration Office.  “As the result of the efforts, strawberries became available to harvest in late November or early December.”

Since the holiday rush is over, farms are now opening their doors to individuals who want to try their hand at picking some delicious berries.

“For strawberry picking, January is the best,” said Mari Takiguchi of Japan Agricultural Cooperative, Yokosuka-Hayama.  “Strawberry picking becomes available in late December or early January. So, you can enjoy the first, sweetest and biggest fruit.”

Picking on Okinawa
Strawberry picking is popular not only in the mainland Japan, but also on Okinawa.  There are three popular farms, one each in Ginozason, Minatogawa and Nakagusukuson, offering strawberry picking throughout the winter season.

“Winter on Okinawa is a good time to cultivate strawberries,” said Tatsuya Ginoza, director of Ginozason Agricultural Successors Training Center.

Strawberry farms on Okinawa are extremely busy throughout the season, especially in the weekends. Ginoza is confident that folks will get their money’s worth on the island.

“As ultraviolet rays are strong, our strawberries are much more reddish and richer in taste than those of mainland of Japan,” he bragged.

How to pick
There are two ways to pick strawberries in Japan: 1) pay in advance and pick and eat all you want and 2) pay based on how much you pick. Most farms offer the pick-and-eat style (generally 30 minutes). 

Just like many other fruits and vegetables, early morning is the best time to pick strawberries. “I encourage you to come and pick strawberries in the morning as you can enjoy fresh and tasty berries well chilled during the night,” Takiguchi said.

Most of farms throughout the country cultivate strawberries in greenhouses, regardless of the climate and the temperature. Even on the tropical island of Okinawa, greenhouses are used to protect fruits from winds, rains, birds and insects, according to Ginoza. Farmers use honeybees to pollinate strawberries when their blossoms bloom about two or three months after their planting.

There are two major methods of strawberry cultivations, elevated cultivation and ordinal soil cultivation. In elevated cultivation, strawberries are planted in waste high planters so you can easily pick the fruit while standing. Soil cultivation is the old-fashioned style where the farmer plants the strawberries on the ground. From all accounts, the berries are juicier and tastier this way, although people need to squat to pick them.

Strawberry picking costs around 1,500 yen ($15) per person. However, the fee changes depending on the time of year. So, when you contact farms for reservation, be sure to ask them the current fee, as well as status of strawberry growth and type of cultivation.

Strawberry picking tours offered

Strawberry Picking & Photo Frame Decoration
Date: Jan. 7 and 15
Time: 10 a.m. – 4 p.m.
For more info contact Kadena ITT at DSN: 966-7333, Cell/Off: 036-868-2226.

Strawberry Picking Tour
Date: March 19
Time: 9 a.m. – 3 p.m.
For more info, contact MCCS Tours+ at DSN 646-3502 (OFF BASE 098-971-3502) or DSN 623-6344 (OFF BASE 098-969-6344) or DSN 637-2744 (OFF BASE 098-911-5111, then 637-2744)

Strawberry Farms

Sun Foods Minatogawa Farm Strawberry Garden
Open mid-Feb through May (subject to change), 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., all-you-can-eat (20 minutes), 1,400 yen, elementary students 900 yen, preschoolers 600 yen. Takeout available depending upon the amount of strawberries left each day. (Large pack 400 yen, small pack 250 yen)
Address: 382 Gesashi, Higashi-son, Kunigami-gun, Okinawa 905-1205.
For reservation,  call 0980-43-2542 (Japanese)  
*It is strongly recommend to come with a Japanese speaker.
*Reservation by phone required. (Reservation needs to be made by a Japanese speaker)
*Closed Mon. and Fri. (except holidays)

Tomoya Farm (Nakagusukuson)
Open Dec. 3 through May 31 (subject to change), 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., all-you-can-eat (20 minutes), 1,300 yen, elementary students 800 yen,  preschoolers 500 yen.
Address: 552-1, Kitauebaru, Nakagusuku-son, Nakagami, Okinawa 901-2423.
For more information, call 090-1946-1247 (Japanese)
*Takeout is NOT available
*No reservations accepted.
*First come first served.
*The farm can close before 4 p.m. if it runs out of strawberries.
*Closed Mon. and Fri.   
*It is strongly recommend to come with a Japanese speaker.

Tips for picking

  1. Reservations are recommended for strawberry picking.
  2. Know the rules. Most places only allow you pick-and-eat inside of the greenhouse, so don’t try to take some home with you.
  3. Go to the bathroom before you start picking (no kidding). Strawberries are 90 percent water (enough said).
  4. Greenhouses are very warm. Bring the right clothing.
  5. The greenhouses are muddy, so wear shoes that you don’t mind getting dirty.
  6. Choose smaller berries that are red.  They are usually sweeter and tastier than big ones.
  7. No need to wash berries. They are grown in a clean environment; you can eat them as is.