Sunday, February 12, 2023

A Berry Nice Day at Ichigo-no-Ie

--Susan, every other Sunday

Last weekend, I hopped a shinkansen north to Jomo Kogen, in Gunma Prefecture--an area perhaps best known for excellent skiing--for an experience of a somewhat different flavor.

A snowstorm the previous night left the area frosted in chilly white - and made for a beautiful, sparkling walk to Ichigo-no-ie - Strawberry House - where I'd made reservations for strawberry picking.

The greenhouses at Ichigo-no-Ie

Signs and banners told me I'd reached the right place - and that they also have a dessert shop (eat in or take away) in case the "all-you-can-eat" berry picking wasn't enough...

Welcome to strawberry house!

Strawberries are a winter, greenhouse crop in Japan - and rarely are seen in stores outside of the short December-to-March strawberry season. Strawberries are also highly prized, with the origin and species written prominently on the packaging. 

Many people (present company included) not only recognize multiple varieties, but have a favorite. (Mine are tochiotome, akihime, and Tochigi skyberries - although I really like strawberries from Kumamoto too.) I'd never eaten strawberries from Gunma - and learned why when the staff explained that the species they grow at this location are delicate and don't travel well, so they only sell them as part of the picking experience or via their on-site shop. 

Inside the greenhouse. Rows and rows of deliciousness.

The staff walked me (and the other group that also had reservations at 11) to the greenhouse and explained the process. You can't pick strawberries to take home, but the $18 fee gives you unlimited pick-and-eat privileges for 30 minutes, starting "at the moment you pick your first berry."

Numbered rows

Every person was assigned a numbered row (Mine was D3) that was his or hers alone for the 30-minute picking time, although we were told "if you pick all you like from that row before the time is up, just tell us and we'll give you another row too."

Spoiler alert: I did not, in fact, eat all of the delicious, ripe berries in my row, despite a magnificent best-effort.

Berries, with sweetened condensed milk for dipping

We were given trays with a little well for sweetened, condensed milk and given a quick but very effective lesson on how to pick the strawberries (one-handed!) in a way that didn't hurt the plants.

I raised strawberries for years in the States, and I dearly wish someone had shown me this technique decades ago. 


Each aisle had two different species of strawberry - one on the left and the other on the right. As you can see, the bushes grow at chest height, meaning you don't even have to bend over to pick the fruit. We were shown tables where we could sit (if we wished) and places to wash our hands or the berries (if we wanted or needed to - though we were told the berries were clean and safe to eat without additional washing), as well as a station with coffee and tea prepared, and available for free if we wanted it.

With that, we were asked if we were ready, and allowed to go into the aisles and look around before we started if we wanted to. (I suppose some people might want to establish a strategy. I was planning to go with "EAT EVERYTHING RED.")

Magnificent fruit

The strawberries easily averaged the size of golf balls - with many up to twice that size. Back in the states, I used to avoid larger berries, because they tended to be watery and less flavorful; that was not the case with these beauties. They were the perfect blend of sweet and sour, not mushy or mealy, and absolutely delicious. 


When we said we were ready, the staff member watched us one at a time as we reached for our berries, and plucked the first one from the stem, so everyone had an individual timer.

Some people ate the berries right in the aisles. I picked a cupful and took it back to the table to enjoy, and then returned for more when I'd emptied the cup.

A berryful bounty

I like my berries just slightly underripe, because I prefer them slightly sour, so picking them off the plant myself was great, because I could take only the ones I wanted.

BIG berries. Hand for scale

Several of my friends asked how many berries I managed to pick and eat in thirty minutes. I'll preface my answer by saying I deliberately didn't eat breakfast, and arrived at the greenhouse very hungry. Then, I'll admit that I lost count after two dozen--though I don't think I ate (many) more than thirty.

This much I can report: In thirty minutes, I am capable of eating a sufficient volume of strawberries to thoroughly spoil not only lunch, but dinner as well.

You want these strawberries.


My aisle after my time was through - I tried my best, but there were just too many of them...

The berries were so delicious that I bought a box to take home from the shop when my picking time was over. After that, I waddled back through the snowy fields to the train . . . already planning my return. In fact, I might head back before the 2023 strawberry season ends, and I'll definitely be taking friends back with me when they come to town during strawberry time.

I didn't like strawberries all that much before moving to Japan, but the size and quality of the fruit that's grown here has made me an unrepentant convert - and the ones at Ichigo-no-Ie were particularly splendid.

Heading back to the station

 All in all, a berry, berry nice way to spend a winter afternoon.


  1. I was raised in the US produce business, and never did I see tasty strawberries that size. They look as large as plums.

    1. Jeff, you’re not wrong. Some of the varieties (including these) do get as large as plums. And they don’t get watery, which is even more mind-blowing.

  2. I want to come, Susan. Finally, something wonderful in Japan that I can actually eat. Ordinarily, I only it the tiny “wild” strawberries in Italy. Or the small tangy sweet locally grown ones in the farm market in NYC. How do you say “strawberry shortcake” in Japanese? AA

  3. Oh this looks so incredible! I don't normally like strawberries but now I really want to visit and see this place!