During cherry blossom season, we enjoy Ohanami (cherry-blossom viewing event), one of the Japanese spring customs. Cherry blossom starts to bloom from the end of March to the beginning of April. Simultaneously, our new year season starts from April, so spring is a time when we meet new friends and leave the old. The cherry begins to ripen in early summer, and then the cherry picking season starts. Here’s a quick guide to where to get fresh cherries in Japan.
Gari, hunting in Japanese
We call fruit picking “gari”. Cherry gari is Japanese for visiting an orchard to pick cherries. “Gari” originally meant hunting wild boars and mushrooms in the mountains. Gradually, Heian (the 8th-12th century) nobles, who didn’t hunt, visited mountains to enjoy beautiful nature. People called the activity “gari”. Momiji gari means to enjoy Japanese maple leaves’ color changes, while Hotaru gari means to see fireflies near streams and rice fields. As the usage of “gari” has expanded, people have started to use “gari” to refer to picking fruits and vegetables. Strawberry gari begins from March and apple and grape gari begins from September. At an orchard and in the field, we can come to understand what we eat daily and where it comes from.
When is the best season
In June, you see cherries in the market and sweets shops that provide cherry cakes, tarts and parfaits. It shows the cherry picking season has begun. Till the mid of July, you can do cherry picking, but from the middle of June to July is the best season.
Where to go
Yamagata Prefecture is the most famous for cherry picking in Japan, however, Yamanashi and Fukushima Prefectures are also known for cherries. Shiga, Hyogo and Wakayama Prefectures are famous as the fruit kingdom too in western Japan.
There are some tours that include transport, cherry picking and lunch. I don’t want to bother others with my energetic kids and I hesitate to be brought to commercialized souvenir shops, so we usually go picking by ourselves. However, if you have small children, joining a tour is the most convenient way to go.
Cherry Picking at Koriyama Area in Fukushima
We went to Maruyoshi orchard in Fukushima Prefecture. When we visited, it was not crowded and the staff kindly told us we could stay more than 30 minutes, but the first 10 minutes was enough to enjoy cherry picking. In the middle, I had a break and took photos of cherries in order to make some room in my stomach for another bite, but I certainly couldn’t keep eating for the full 30 minutes. It was a hot early summer and we enjoyed fresh cherries as big as prunes, but staff told us the sweetness and sourness became variable due to their huge size from the effect of the hot weather. Thanks to the strong sunshine, the leaves grow in a good condition. The previous year’s leaf condition affects the next year’s ripeness of the cherry, so it is expected to be delicious in the next season.
How to get there
Get on the Shinkansen Bullet Train from Tokyo to Fukushima (90 minutes) and head to cherry orchards by Fukushima Iizaka line or rent-a-car. The train line only runs once an hour, so rent-a-car is convenient. It is a 20-minute drive from Fukushima Station to Maruyoshi Orchard.