Where I’m from, winter is for oranges and grapefruits. But summertime boasts a myriad of fruits and vegetables. That’s why when I saw strawberries in December in Japan, I grabbed them, excited for one of my favorite fruits off-season.
Then I checked out.
At the register, it showed that my small container of 6 strawberries was 800¥, which is approximately $8.
Kyushu, the prefecture in which we live, is in the southern part of Japan, and the strawberry season starts earlier here than in other prefectures. With the addition of greenhouses being used after WWII to grow fruit, the season can start even earlier. As strawberries become more readily available during the season, the price goes down to around 400¥. But you’ll never get a gathering basket full for $10 like back in South Carolina.
The best part is that strawberries and other fruit are gifted, with one perfect strawberry being beautifully packaged and costing a few hundred yen for one. There are varieties of strawberries here in Japan I have never seen before that are sought after during the strawberry season, including the white strawberry. The idea is that fruit is grown for perfection. For the perfect look and taste.
Here the beauty of fruit is that each season is celebrated.
Treats come out seasonally and disappear when the fruit is no longer available. Rarely are things shipped from other places. Where we shop, they only sell produce from the farms surrounding it. The idea of not being able to get something for a recipe just because it isn’t in season sounds crazy to an American, but it makes everything feel temporary and special.
Back home, summertime and strawberry season brings strawberry ice cream, strawberry lemonade, and strawberry jam. In Japan, the same seasonal variation happens with ichigo daifuku (a mochi variation with red bean paste and a strawberry inside) or the strawberry flavored cream mochi (no bean paste). There is also a Christmas cake, which is a form of a strawberry shortcake with less sugar. Finally, there are strawberry sandwiches which sound strange but are so delicious. White fluffy bread with cream filling and cut up strawberries are a favorite treat. My children look for these Japanese treats, excited over their arrival and disappointed when they can no longer be found.
It might sound silly but in a way strawberries, are a memory.
They’re fresh ice cream on a summer evening while fireflies flash in the gathering dark.
They’re also mochi that has bean paste and strawberries instead of white cream because we didn’t read the Japanese label correctly.
They’re all white strawberries which are ridiculously difficult to locate and more delicious than any strawberry I’ve ever tasted.
They’re fresh strawberry syrup over my grandma’s pound cake.
The cost of strawberries (or fruit in general) in Japan is high, but I’m willing to pay it as we are experiencing this country to the fullest.
I’m willing to go on these adventures for strawberry and cream sandwiches and strawberry picking with my children. In showing them what Japan has to offer, I can also tell them all about the country they were born in and how the taste of one fruit can remind me of home. And you can’t put a price on something like that.