Autumn and Winter
Japanese pears are known as sand pears, and as you might imagine, their flesh has a rather rough and crispy texture. Interestingly, this type of pear can be eaten immediately after harvesting without waiting for it to ripen. Look for them in season from September to October in fruit shops or greengrocers (around 100 yen each). When speaking of Japanese pears, many people probably think of nijusseiki (meaning 20th century – a new variety introduced at the end of the 19th century and named out of hope for the new century) that are exported overseas and have yellow-green skin. Their flesh is smooth and the refreshing taste with a slight hint of tartness and plenty of fruity juice makes them very popular in Japan. Along with nijusseiki, kosui and hosui with their brownish-red skin are also popular. They are sweeter than nijusseiki and have a wonderfully rich taste.
Persimmons, known as kaki around the world, are a seasonal autumn fruit in Japan. There are both sweet and bitter persimmons. Two typical varieties of sweet persimmons are fuyugaki, which has a meltingly soft flesh and is very sweet and juicy, and jirogaki, which has a firmer flesh with a crispy texture (around 100 yen each). More than half the persimmons that come into season from October to December are fuyugaki and they are often eaten as dessert. With sweet persimmons, you peel the skin with a knife, remove the seeds and cut them into pieces to eat. But you cannot eat bitter persimmons as they are, so you must peel and dry them, either out in the sun or near a fire, to eliminate the bitterness. Through this process, the sugar will also be condensed and the sweetness will be intensified. You can buy these dried persimmons at fruit shops, but various regions around Japan have their own hoshigaki (dried persimmons) using varieties particular to the region, so watch for them in your travels (1 pack of 20 hoshigaki ranges from 2,000 to 3,000 yen).
Apples start to appear in fruit shops, greengrocers and supermarkets around November (from 100 yen each). Yellow or green apples are popular in Europe, but red apples are preferred in Japan. Fuji, which accounts for nearly half the total apple production in Japan, has a beautiful bright red skin. It is sweet and juicy, with firm, crisp-textured flesh that sometimes contains mitsu (syrup). Apples known as sun-fuji, which do not have such brightly colored skin, are also common. Their appearance is not quite as nice as fuji apples, but they are grown in plenty of sunshine, so they are even sweeter and more flavorful. The most popular yellow-green apple among the Japanese is orin. Its robust flavor combines a slight sourness with a strong sweetness. Peel the apple, remove the core and cut it into 6-8 canoe-shaped pieces to eat. Or simply wash it and bite into it without peeling to taste the genuine deliciousness of an apple.
You can easily peel a Japanese mandarin orange with your fingers and then eat it. Moreover, they rarely have seeds. You can eat them anywhere, so if you see them at greengrocers or supermarkets, you should definitely try one. Unshu-mikan, which come into season from fall to winter (at the beginning of fall, they have a green skin, which gradually turns orange), are sold in plastic bags of 8-10 (around 400-600 yen). Unshu-mikan is the most popular variety of mandarin in Japan and has soft, juicy flesh. Eating unshu-mikan while sitting at a kotatsu (small table with a heater underneath and covered by a quilt) and watching TV is what typifies the Japanese New Year. House-mikan produced under a controlled growing environment can be found on the market almost all year round. There are also many other kinds of Japanese mandarins including iyokan, a hybrid of orange and mandarin; ponkan, with its characteristic rough skin and strong flavor; and amanatsu, in season from March to May.