As the long cold Japanese winter draws to a close and the inhabitants of Tohoku wait for the pink blossoms of the cherry trees to herald the beginning of summer, there is another plant that bears fruit, albeit assisted by heaters and electric light.
In the south of Miyagi, about an hour from Sendai city, there is an area near the coast called Watari. The area was badly damaged in the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake and Tsunami, around 90% of the strawberry farms in the area were destroyed. Four years later, the few that remain, open their long white poly-tunnels to the public, for a “pick-your-own” tabe-ho-dai (all you can eat).
For a small fee, around ¥1500, you can enter the warm grow-tunnels and feast on the gem-like fruits, hanging ripely from raised beds of glorious green strawberry plants. A small plastic container is provided by the grinning farmers son, with a generous squirt of sweet condensed milk, a perfect compliment to the smaller tart berries and an indulgent enhancement to the larger sweet fruits.
As it is all over Japan, ever-helpful locals provide tips on finding the sweetest fruit (hint: Look for the upturned leaves on the top of the berry!) After around thirty minutes, you will probably have eaten your fill! With lips stained red from the juice of the berry and fingers sticky from the condensed milk, make your way outside where you can buy a tub of strawberries to take home with you, if you ever want to eat them again that is!
As a final tip, make sure you get there early! Farmers limit the amount of strawberries picked every day to ensure the plants continue to produce the best fruit and as a popular activity for families and romantic couples alike, the quota is usually filled before lunchtime!