During summer and autumn, there are lots of high-quality fruits in season for you to eat to your heart’s content. Why not try something out of the ordinary by sampling these four types of plus-sized fruits found only in Japan and discovering what makes them so extraordinary? Read on to find out more!
The Arao Jumbo Nashi, nicknamed as the “King of Pears,” is a type of pear named Niitaka (新高) which was first grown at Arao City, Kumamoto Prefecture during the Showa era. In 1927, the first attempt to create the Niitaka pear was done at an experimental farm in Kanagawa Prefecture by cross-breeding the Amanokawa species (天の川) from Niigata Prefecture (新潟県) and the Imamuraaki (今村秋) from Kochi Prefecture (高知県). This led to the creation of the name “Niitaka” which is actually a combination of the names of these two prefectures i.e. the character Nii (新) comes from Niigata and Taka (高) comes from Kochi.
At present, there are as many as 150 farmers growing this species and Arao City produces about 2,000 tonnes of the fruit annually. As the pears grown in Arao are all enclosed in paper bags, the surface of the fruits tend to look better since they are not exposed to external elements. In addition, pears grown this way are considered to be more healthy since they do not come into contact with chemicals or fertilizers which may be sprayed onto the trees. As for how to store the pears, they can last up to 1 week if kept in a well-ventilated place at room temperature and up to a month if placed in the refrigerator.
As the name suggests, the Arao Jumbo Nashi is bigger than the usual pears you see where some can be as big as a child’s head and weigh up to 2 kg each! Thanks to the warm climate in Arao, this species boasts a crunchy texture, a unique sweetness, and a fragrance which is said to get better as the temperature climbs higher.
Generally, the harvesting season for the Arao Jumbo Nashi is from late September to the end of October but this can differ depending on when the flowers on the pear trees sprout. If the flowers sprout earlier than usual, the harvesting season will be brought forward corresponding. On average, a tree will have about 500 fruits but those which are assessed to be growing less well will be cut off from the tree, thus leaving the big and high-quality fruits to continue growing. Subsequently, the fruits are individually wrapped in paper bags before they ripen and are ready for harvesting.
It is important to note that in Arao City, there are at least four other types of signature pears which the farmers in the city also grow. As such, it is recommended that you are aware of these differences at the time of your purchase to ensure that you are indeed getting the real Arao Jumbo Nashi a.k.a. Niitaka.
In the month of August, the first variety available in the market will be Kousui (幸水) which is the no. 1 most common species of pears grown in Japan. It is renowned for its juicy flesh and soft texture but is comparatively much smaller than the Niitaka. From mid-August to early September, you will be able to buy the Shuurei (秋麗) which is a relatively new species that was first sold in Kumamoto from 2008 and known for its juicy flesh, soft texture, and its sweetness similar to a European-type pear. Due to the difficulty of growing the Shuurei, the number of farmers producing this type of pear is small so there is a limited supply in the market.
By the time you get to late August to the end of September, you can see the Housui (豊水) which is the second most common species of pears grown in Japan. As compared to Kousui, there is a tinge of sourness in the Housui which is slightly bigger and irregular in shape. Some of the biggest Housui pears can even rival that of the Niitaka in terms of size. Last but not least, the Akizuki (あきづき) is also a relatively new species first sold in the Heisei era and is a result of cross-breeding the Niitaka, Housui, and Kousui. The harvesting period of the Akazuki is around the same as the Housui.
If you are interested in harvesting the Arao Jumbo Nashi pears personally, you can sign up for an experience tour at the Tsuruta Farm (Japanese only) where you pay 800 yen for every kilogram of pears you pick. A minimum group of 4 people is needed, while the biggest group that can participate at one go is 50. Reservations are needed in advance so be sure to do that before the harvesting period in the first two weeks of October.
The Banpeiyu is a type of citrus pomelo largely grown in southern Japan which has a thick skin and is much larger than other types of pomelo. In fact, a Banpeiyu won the title of the world’s heaviest pomelo in the Guinness World Records in 2014 weighing 4.8597 kg. As such, it is common to find large versions of this fruit weighing as much as 2 kg with a diameter of 25 cm. As for how the name was derived, it was said that the character “晩” represents the late maturing nature of this species, “白” refers to the whitish flesh of the fruit, and “柚” is the Kanji character used to refer to the pomelo.
The Banpeiyu was first brought into Japan via Taiwan in 1920 by botanist Shimada Yaichi who first tasted the sweet fruit on a Vietnamese ship and brought the saplings back from Ho Chi Minh City. However, the method of cultivation was not known so the fruit did not grow in popularity then. Subsequently, the saplings were imported from Taiwan by a Kagoshima fruit cultivation center before it was determined that Yatsushiro City in Kumamoto Prefecture is the best location to grow the Banpeiyu and improvements were made to the growing method. Now, this fruit has become a signature produce of Yatsushiro and as much as 97 percent of the annual output come from Kumamoto Prefecture. The harvesting season usually starts from mid-January but some farms start shipping their produce from mid-December so as to make it in time for the year-end gift-giving season of Oseibo.
This fruit which can be kept for up to a month has a refreshing sweet and sour fragrance with a crisp texture due to the low amount of juices in the flesh. Other than eating the fruit directly, the Banpeiyu can also be made into products such as jelly, jam, and sweets. As for the skin, it can be boiled in sugar to become a snack named zabon-zuke (candied pomelo peel) or dried for a few days before it is added to bathtubs for its aroma, beautifying effect, and as a remedy for colds.
The Bijinhime which literally means “beauty princess,” is a giant species of strawberries cultivated by Okuda Farm in Hashima City, Gifu Prefecture. Over a long period of 13 years and repeated attempts, the farm finally succeeded in coming up with the Bijinhime which is not only much larger than its peers but is also tops in terms of its color, shine, aroma, and sweetness.
Since 2010, the Okuda Farm has succeeded in producing Bijinhime strawberries weighing above 80 g each on a consistent basis. On top of that, the farm has managed to produce Bijinhime fruits weighing more than 100 g in recent years and that it intends to use these plus-sized strawberries to apply for entry into the Guinness World Records.
The Bijinhime is usually sold between early December and early March. Due to its limited numbers, the bigger sized ones tend to be more expensive. For the strawberries which range from 35 g to 40 g, they are placed in paper boxes and sold at a price of between 300 and 500 yen per piece. At department stores in Tokyo, the Bijinhime can fetch up to 1,000 yen per piece. On the other extreme, the bigger sized ones which weigh more than 80 g cost 50,000 yen each and are placed one by one in boxes as shown above. Besides from the strawberries, the farm also makes strawberry jam and juice which can be eaten with bread and desserts.
As compared to most strawberries which weigh an average of 20 g, the Bijinhime is at least double of that and are also sweeter. In most strawberries, the part which is attached to the stem is normally white but the Bijinhime is entirely red. To prevent any damage on the surface of the strawberries, they are not picked by hand but are carefully cut from the stems with scissors.
If you are interested in buying 2017’s Bijinhime to be harvested from mid-December 2016, pre-orders are accepted via Okuda Farm’s website (Japanese only).
The Nyuuzen Jumbo Suika is a type of oval-shaped watermelon grown at Nyuuzen Town in Toyama Prefecture. With an average weight ranging from 15 kg to 18 kg each and a diameter of about 30 cm, this type of watermelon can grow up to 25 kg and is known as the biggest watermelon grown in Japan.
Since the Muromachi era, the Kurobe River valley area which includes Nyuuzen has an abundant supply of underground water that has been used to grow watermelons. The people living in that area started cultivating large and oval-shaped watermelon species from 1887. Over the span of more than 120 years, the people of Nyuuzen overcame various difficulties to come up with their jumbo suika which is harvested between late July and mid-August.
The Nyuuzen Jumbo Suika can be purchased via the Internet wherein you can specify the weight of the watermelon that you desire. For example, GREEN MORISHITA’s jumbo suika (Japanese only) come in three sizes: L (11 to 13 kg), 2L (14 to 16 kg), and 3L (17 to 19 kg) which cost 5,300 yen, 6,500 yen, and 7,700 yen, respectively. If you require something which weighs more than 20 kg, you will have to contact the company directly to make special arrangements. Other than sending the watermelon to your home, you can also specify the delivery to be made to a camping ground or a barbecue venue as people usually want to eat watermelons during their summer outings.
These big-sized watermelons are wrapped in a weaved straw bag known as the san-tawara (さん俵) which is meant to prevent them from being damaged. After the harvest season, the farmers begin work on the san-tawara from autumn until the snowy winter.
Other than eating the fruit as it is, there is also a product called Nyuuzen Jumbo Suika Cider which is usually given as a prize for people who manage to hit the watermelons in the suikawari (watermelon splitting) game.
As compared to other types of watermelons which are usually grown by grafting, the Nyuuzen Jumbo Suika is grown with its own roots. Due to the fact that a plot of land cannot be used for the next 10 years once a watermelon has been harvested from there, replanting is avoided and excess sprouts are removed so that all the nutrients can be concentrated in one fruit. As a result of this hard work by the farmers, the Nyuuzen Jumbo Suika was recognized by the Japan Patent Office as the first local brand of Toyama Prefecture in February 2007. Since then, the farmers have been making efforts to improve the watermelon’s quality and increase awareness of it nationwide.
After reading about these huge fruits available in Japan, are you interested in checking them out and seeing if they are as good as they are reputed? Have fun feasting on these plus-sized fruits while in Japan!