The cherry blossoms may have fallen from the trees, but there’s no need to feel sad – the best is yet to come…after flowers comes fruit!!
With summer just around the corner, fruit orchards around Tohoku are getting ready for this year’s harvest, which means it’s time help out with the fruit-picking!! And by ‘help out’ what I really mean is picking with one hand and using the other to pop that sweet, delicious, juicy fruit straight into your mouth.
Tohoku produces some of the best fruit in Japan. In fact, it is not an overstatement to claim that there is at least one kind of delicious fruit produced every month of the year! But without a doubt, Summer and Autumn boast the richest variety. Currently, the strawberry-picking season is drawing to a close and the cherry-picking season is just about to start (in late-May/early-June) and continue until late-July.
Whilst cherries are produced in many cities across the Tohoku region, the best place to taste these ruby-red gems is in Yamagata Prefecture. Producing nearly 70% of Japan’s cherries every year, the entire prefecture becomes absolutely cherry-mad in summer.
There are a huge number of cherry orchards around Yamagata that offer a cherry-picking experience (useful site info and locations can be found here).
Depending on the orchard you choose, you usually pay between 1000~3000 yen for a 30~60 minute session of all-you-can-pick cherries! You are typically guided to a cordoned-off area of the main orchard with trees of two to three different kinds of cherries. After a short explanation of the correct picking technique, you are left to your own devices in cherry-heaven!
If you’re concerned that 30 minutes is not nearly enough time, there is a catch…You have to eat whatever cherries you pick!! Usually, 30 minutes is about as much as your stomach can handle. Of course there are great value packs and crates of cherries that you can purchase to take home with you, but what is picked from the orchard stays in your stomach…unless of course you get carried away and over-indulge…(which is a real danger; you have been warned)!!
CHERRY FESTIVAL &
CHERRY STONE SPITTING COMPETITION
Sagae City in Yamagata is the cherry capital of Yamagata Prefecture and every year the city holds a lively Cherry Festival (寒河江さくらんぼの祭り). Held over two days, there is a ton of fun to be had from trying out local food (including cherries, of course!), family events, live music and fireworks displays. This year (2018) the festival will be held over Saturday, June 09 and Sunday, June 10 (with other events happening on every weekend between June 9 ~ July 1) at the Mogamigawa-Furusato-Sogo Park (最上川ふるさと総合応援）.
But the highlight of the festival is no doubt the annual ‘Cherry Stone Spitting Contest’ , recorded as the largest cherry stone spitting contest by Guinness World Records (by number of participants)!
Participation is open (and free!) to whoever wants to the ultimate test of lung-capacity! Participants are given three cherries for three attempts at breaking the record for the furthest spat cherry stone. I believe the current record stands at a whopping 23.05m…!!
We could only manage a mere 7m (which is still not to be sneezed at) but there was a lot of fun and hilarity involved in getting there!
Of course, you can look forward to all the great, fresh fruit that will appear on the supermarket shelves during the summer months, but we can guarantee it will be a hundred times tastier when picked yourself!
If you’ve got the chance, definitely pay a visit to Yamagata and sink your teeth into some of the season’s best – you are sure to have a cherry good time!
For information about orchards and tours offering cherry-picking experiences, this site provides a useful reference!