In Japan every season has its own charms, but when it comes to food autumn holds a special place in the hearts—and stomachs—of the Japanese. “Shokuyoku no aki”, which translates as “Autumn, the season of good appetite”, is a common refrain at this time of year, used to describe the appeal of the many ingredients and dishes unique to the season.
Autumn is also loved for its comfortable weather, with cool temperatures, low humidity and clear skies. And a favorite way to combine the pleasant weather with the delicious bounty of fall is a trip to the country for some fruit picking. Called “kudamono gari” in Japanese, this seasonal activity appeals to families and couples on driving trips and is often the main feature of autumn bus tours. These tours, usually day trips, have traditionally attracted elderly folks but are increasingly popular among all age groups, as orchards and farms are not easily accessible to those without cars of their own.
Popular fruit available for picking in autumn includes apples, grapes, and mandarins, with other treats like chestnuts also in season. Every prefecture in the Kanto area has something to offer and many farms and orchards are within easy driving distance of Tokyo, some of them near hot springs, historical sites and other tourist destinations. When driving in the country, orchards and farms can be located fairly easily: “Kudamono Gari” signs are a good hint to look for, as are signs for “Kajuen” (fruit orchard) and “Noen” (fruit or vegetable farm).
There are two different ways to enjoy fruit picking in Japan. The all-you-can-eat option, where you pay a flat fee to eat fruit while you pick it, is popular for small, soft fruit such as strawberries and cherries. You can eat as much as you like but there is usually a time limit. The take-home option, more familiar to westerners, is more common for autumn fruit. Unlike the all-you-can-eat option, you can pick without a time limit, paying for it by weight when you’re done, and of course eating as you pick is forbidden. Many farms and orchards have both types of picking available, and some farms require an entry fee in addition to the all-you-can-eat or take-away charges.
The following is a list of some of the autumn fruit and other produce available in the prefectures surrounding Tokyo, followed by information on select orchards and farms. Keep in mind that fruit seasons vary greatly from area to area, so it’s better to call ahead to confirm that there will be something to pick. Few orchards have English speaking staff, so if you’re not a Japanese speaker you’ll need to find a Japanese speaking friend to help out. Also note that prices given are for adults; children’s prices are sometimes cheaper.
Grapes for picking in Japan are usually the kyoho variety, a red grape with large, sweet fruit. Kyoho grapes have seeds, which are spit out along with the skins, which are considered too thick and bitter to eat. Grapes are in season from late August to early October.
Apples are perhaps the most popular autumn fruit for picking, thanks in part to their long season. Several varieties are available according to season, such as tsugaru in late August, kougyoku in late October and fuji in early November. Although each variety has its own characteristics, Japanese apples are generally bigger and sweeter than their overseas counterparts.
Also known as a Japanese pear, this large round fruit has crisp and juicy flesh with a delicate flavor. It is in season from mid-August to late November.
Also called mandarins, tangerines or satsuma oranges, these are peeled and eaten in segments. Mikan are considered a winter fruit but early varieties start in October.
This mild orange fruit is in season from mid-October to late November. It has firm flesh, a mild sweet flavour and an inedible peel and seeds, so must be cut before eating.
Japanese figs are slightly larger and lighter in color than most other varieties. They are in season from mid-August to early October.
This fuzzy favorite is available year-round in stores, but the picking season runs from early September to late November.
Japanese sweet potatoes have reddish-purple skin and yellow flesh, and tend to be moister and sweeter than other varieties. A bit more work than fruit picking, sweet potatoes are dug from the ground. Available from late September to early November.
Chestnuts must be peeled and cooked before being eaten, and are used in both sweet and savory cooking. In season from late August to mid October.
The most popular mushroom in Japan, shiitake are cultivated on logs and available from late September to early November.
Nakagami Orchards in Yamanashi has grapes, apples, nashi and persimmons, along with more fruit in the summer; a barbeque area is also available. One of the few orchards with an English website, Nakagami accepts email enquiries and phone calls in English. Numerous picking options available, including take-home apples and nashi for 500 yen per kilogram and all-you-can eat grapes for 1000 yen.
Nomura Kanko Kajuen in Tochigi grows apples and nashi. Entry is 300 yen plus 500 to 700 yen per kilogram of take-home fruit.
Kimichan Ringoen in Gunma practices “eco farming”, with apples and figs on offer. Figs are 1000 yen per kilogram plus a 300 yen admission, a wide variety of apples are 500 yen per kilogram.
Seo Kajuen in Ibaraki has grapes and apples. Grapes are 1000 for all-you-can-eat and 1000 yen per kilogram for take-home; apples are 300 yen for all-you-can eat and for take-home cost 500 yen per kilogram.
Mother Bokujo in Futtsu City, Chiba, is a cross between a working farm and a theme park. A popular destination for Tokyo day-trippers, Mother offers visitors a taste of farm life with demonstrations and hands-on experiences, including sweet potato digging and kiwi picking. Both are take-home, with sweet potatoes 600 yen for 5 pieces, and kiwis for 600 yen per kilogram.
Uchinuma Kinokoen in Ome City, Tokyo, features take-home shiitake picking for 300 yen per 100 grams, plus 200 yen admission. A barbeque area is also available.
Yago Mikanen in Odawara City, Kanagawa, grows mikan; all-you-can-eat is 400 yen and take-home is 500 yen per kilogram.
Fruits Land Ikeda in Gunma is actually a collection of independent farms and orchards spread over a large and scenic area. There are grapes, apples, persimmons, kiwis and a wide variety of summer fruit. Grapes are 1000 yen per kilogram, apples are 400 yen per kilogram, and persimmons and kiwis are 500 yen per kilograms. Admission fees are also charged, depending on the orchard and season.
Wakamatsu Midori no Kurien in Chiba City, Chiba, has chestnut picking and sweet potato digging. Chestnuts are 900 yen per kilogram, sweet potatoes are 700 yen per five. No webpage, the farm is open daily and located near Oguradai Station, call 043-231-1478 for more information.
Higashimurayama Budoen in Higashimurayam City, Tokyo, also has no webpage, but boasts a wide variety of grapes ranging in price from 850 to 1800 yen per kilogram, and apples for 500 yen per kilogram. Open daily, near Kumegawa Station, call 042-391-3659.