Spring and Summer
Japan currently has the largest production and consumption of dessert strawberries in the world. Their color and shape are truly outstanding and they are available almost anytime throughout the year, although the best season is from January to March. You can buy them at fruit shops, greengrocers or supermarkets (a container of more than 10 costs around 500 yen). Strawberry farms throughout Japan offer strawberry picking during this season, and it is wonderful to taste them right off the vine. (For an admission fee of around 1,500 yen per adult, you can eat as many as you like within a limited time.) Recommended brands are Nyoho and Toyonaka. Both have a fine balance of sweetness and tartness, and the flavor spreading inside your mouth as you bite into the fruit is marvelous. They are sometimes eaten with sugar, milk or yogurt, but these days, most strawberries are sweet enough to just wash and eat.
In Japan, the melon has an image of being an expensive fruit and is often given as a gift when visiting someone in the hospital. Musk melons are carefully grown in well-controlled greenhouses and some sell for more than 10,000 yen each. As its name suggests, this melon has a musk-like flavor and is grown only in Japan. Musk melons sold at fruit shops have a seal attached indicating the best date to taste. If you don’t want to buy a whole melon but would like to try the taste, look for cakes using musk melons for sale at pastry shops. There are more inexpensive melons such as the andesu melon (under 1,000 yen) that has a white mesh pattern on the skin just like the musk melon and the prince melon (around 500 yen) that has a pale green skin surface with no mesh pattern and orange-colored flesh. All of these melons have a very rich flavor. The melon season is from June to July, but you can find musk melons at all times of the year.
Cherries are very popular as an early summer fruit. You can see packs at fruit shops and supermarkets from May to July from around 500 yen per pack. The purplish red American cherry produced in the US is popular in Japan, but sato-nishiki, with its bright red skin, is also very popular. This is a juicy cherry with plenty of nectar and a good balance of sweetness and tartness. Being a large, high-grade cherry however, a carton of 80 sometimes costs more than 10,000 yen. Therefore, it is also known as “red jewelry.” Cherries are tastiest when eaten raw; freshness is the key, so eat them as soon as possible. Shops will try to sell their cherries by the end of the day, often reducing the price just before closing time, so if you want to enjoy a bargain, try shopping around that time.
In Japan, canned yellow peaches in syrup are popular and are often used in cakes. However, peaches for processing are usually imported from overseas, so if you would like to taste native Japanese peaches, you must get them from fruit shops, greengrocers or supermarkets in season from June to September (around 200 yen each). Hakuto is considered the best variety of peach, and with its juicy white flesh and strong sweetness, it is meltingly delicious. Hakuho also has white flesh and is very sweet, with just a hint of tartness. It is renowned for the beautiful color of its skin. The skin of a fully ripe peach can be peeled off easily with your fingers, but if this is difficult, just place it in lukewarm water before peeling.
The watermelon, in season from June to August, is a typical summer fruit in Japan. Suika-wari (a watermelon splitting game) on the beach is part of the summer fun in Japan. A blindfolded person tries to split a watermelon with blows from a wooden stick while others yell out instructions about where to strike. Watermelons in Japan can be round, rugby ball-shaped, with or without stripes, and with red, yellow or orange flesh. Fruit shops and greengrocers sell whole watermelons (1,000-2,000 yen each), but in supermarkets they are usually cut into quarters (a quarter is around 500 yen), which is recommended if you just want a taste. Watermelons with really black seeds and just a small space around them are the tastiest. If you want to buy a whole one, tap it with your hand lightly, and when you hear a dry clear sound, it is a good watermelon. Sprinkling the fruit with a little salt brings out the sweetness.