Whenever I see strawberries in the supermarkets here, I think back to the fresh tartness of strawberries bursting with sugar sweetness in my mouth, plucked directly from the stems of the plants in the greenhouses of Shizuoka, Japan.
In Tokyo for our first Sakura Hanami experience, we signed up for a strawberry-picking tour with Club Tourism Yokoso Japan as it looked like something that we would not be able to do easily by ourselves since the farms are in the countryside. Also included in the tour was a cruise in the Suruga Bay where we could possibly catch a glimpse of Mount Fuji and visits to a Wasabi souvenir shop and the Mishima Shrine to view the weeping Sakura. Oh, and there was also a buffet lunch at the Izunokuni Panorama Park.
Our meeting place was at the Shinjuku Washington Hotel at 8.50am. We were met by our English-speaking Japanese tour guide who was accompanied by a Mandarin-speaking interpreter. Both ladies were very friendly and accommodating throughout the trip.
Coincidentally (or not) our bus-load of about 24 people consisted of 20 from Singapore and 4 from Hong Kong so yes, there are plenty of us Singaporeans travelling to Japan! Sadly, the day of our tour was a rainy one and that was definitely a dampener. Nonetheless, being Singaporeans, we made ourselves happy by shopping! Our first stop was at the Wasabi souvenir shop where we went a bit mad grabbing all sorts of wasabi flavoured snacks, pastes and the vegetable itself. It was speed shopping as we were given a mere 20 minutes there to grab and go.
Next, we dropped off at Mitohama for a short cruise around the Suruga Bay where we were supposed to have been able to catch views of Mount Fuji. The curtain of rain prevented any such possibility so we ended up huddling like hamsters inside the ferry, away from the cold sea winds. Interestingly, Suruga Bay is the only place where the famous Sakuraebi (little pink shrimp) can be caught. While we did not spot the shrimp, we did see the distressing occurrence of red tide in the waters. We had super crispy sakuraebi tempura in an Izakaya the day after the tour and can attest to the fact that these shrimp are definitely awesome!
|It was a cold day in Suruga Bay …|
|Sakuraebi Tempura – simply awesome!!|
After the cold cruise, we drove a short distance to the Izu Panorama Park for our buffet lunch. Again, owing to the inclement weather, the ropeway was closed. The buffet spread was extensive and included local as well as Western fare such as pasta. Being a tour stop point, they were pretty efficient in replenishing the food. We were happily stuffing ourselves with omu rice (who can resist Japanese rice?), yakisoba and desserts when the guide reminded us that our next stop would be the strawberry picking and eating! Argh!
Moving on to the highlight of the tour, we journeyed for another 15 to 20 minutes before we started sighting greenhouses amidst the very picturesque rapeseed flowers and wild Sakura along the way.
Stopping at a particular greenhouse, we were each given a small plastic holder with some condense milk and instructed that we had 30 minutes exactly to pluck and eat as many strawberries as we could! As the strawberries are grown in straight rows, we could only pluck, eat and go in one direction! So here’s the strategy that we learned belatedly on how to pluck, eat and photograph strawberries in 30 minutes with the rest of the tour group breathing down your back:-
- Don’t be first as there is enormous pressure from the people pressing up behind you.
- Don’t be last as the biggest and best strawberries will be gone!
- Look carefully for the biggest ones (usually nearer the ground) and pluck carefully. Haste might result in uprooting the whole bush which will be unacceptable behaviour!
- If photographing, it is best to pluck a few and put in your container rather than trying to pluck, photograph and eat all at the same time. The container is small so chances are, some of your strawberries will roll off ;(
- Trying to get the better ones nearer the ground might also result in some soil ingestion. This is not advisable even though they claim that no chemicals are used in the growing of strawberries.
- If you have made one round and there is time left, you can go for another round since you are not allowed to da-bao (Singaporean slang for takeaway) the strawberries out of there.
- Oh and lastly, eating too many strawberries can result in diarrhoea. According to the guide, the record was some 50 strawberries eaten by 1 person in 30 minutes ….
|Don’t need the condense milk as they are naturally sweet!|
|Not the biggest but still awesome!|
|The best are near the ground! I ate some soil ;(|
Okay, the last stop was also very pleasing and that was the visit to the Mishima Taisha Shrine where there are some 200 Sakura trees, including the weeping variety. While still drizzling, the Sakura were beautiful to behold, especially the pathway with red lanterns to the main shrine and around the lake. So many photo opps but we only had 30 minutes here. Sigh.
|Weeping Sakura around the pond at Mishima Taisha|
|A shrine maiden strides forth purposefully|
|Sakura in the rain still beautiful!|
So it was a lovely experience we had with Club Tourism despite the rainy weather and I would recommend this tour to anyone especially those with kids and grandparents too as it is an activity that all can enjoy! Club Tourism was great from the time of booking all the way till the end of tour so do check out the local tours for places that you would otherwise have a lot of trouble getting to.
The strawberry-picking tours operate from December to May so if you are in Japan then, do take the opportunity to go!