“There must be an easier way,” I thought, discreetly wiping the red juice from between my fingers. My first attempt at picking these large, juicy fruits hadn’t gone well. “You lift upwards to break the stem,” said Azusa, the owner’s daughter, effortlessly removing a perfect, red strawberry and handing it to me.
Surrounding the city of Ebina in Kanagawa Prefecture is the locally known Strawberry Road, a cluster of strawberry greenhouses and farm shops dotted around a residential area. Signs for いちご (“ichigo” – the Japanese word for strawberry) appear on shopfronts at the side of the road and red, cartoon-like images gaze at passing motorists. Even the city’s mascot, Ebi, is a red little figure with a shrimp-like head and a strawberry body.
Ebina is located on the Sagami Plain and is surrounded by wide-open rice paddy fields that stretch out towards the Tanzawa Mountains in the distance. It is a place to enjoy the beauty of spring and there are several spots around the city to experience the strawberry culture.
Where To Pick Strawberries
With the arrival of spring, Strawberry House in Ebina is busy with young families who come to enjoy picking and eating strawberries on a Saturday morning. Everyone is given a small tray of sweet condensed milk and has 30 minutes to pick and eat their way around the greenhouse.
The five varieties are clearly marked and it’s fun to do a comparison between them while learning something new. The strawberries grow a meter from the ground so they are easy to pick and the wide, flat aisles make it accessible for wheelchairs and strollers.
The farm sells a range of strawberry products such as strawberry-scented cosmetics as well as individual strawberry plants to grow at home. Unlike some farms, visitors don’t need to make a reservation but should arrive when doors open at 7:30 am to book their slot. Open Saturday and Sunday only between January and June. Entry is ¥1,900 for adults and ¥1,100 for children.
While Strawberry House Ebina opens earliest in the strawberry season, there are two other popular farms nearby that offer strawberry picking during the peak months of April and May. Takei Strawberry Farm is situated about a 10-minute walk from the strawberry road. It is necessary to make a reservation as it is a highly-regarded spot that has gained recognition from the Japanese Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries over the years. Entry is ¥1,200 for adults and ¥1,000 for children in April and May.
Onoue Strawberry Farm is similar to Strawberry House and visitors don’t need to make a reservation in advance. There is a small shop on the strawberry road where you can buy their delicious strawberry jam as well as other homegrown fruits and vegetables. Entry is ¥1,200 for adults and ¥1,000 for children in April and May.
Where To Try Strawberries
Strawberry picking in Ebina is about enjoying their fresh taste rather than taking the fruits home but there are a number of places to buy strawberry products around the city. Yamaguchiya, a Japanese sweet shop, is a hidden gem and is known for its varieties of strawberry daifuku – soft, sticky rice cakes with a plump fresh strawberry at their center.
The shop is located in a quiet residential area, a short walk from the number 16 bus route, and sells attractively-packaged sweets to take away. The products are made in their own kitchen and a small window allows customers to see the production area while they browse the shop.
If you are looking for a more modern way to enjoy strawberries then the Rembrandt Hotel, a short walk from Ebina train station, has a newly-renovated restaurant on the ground floor which sells the hotel’s unique strawberry cake. It’s a comfortable, sophisticated environment to relax with a cup of coffee or hot tea. The delicious red cakes have a moist topping and are made with rice flour so maintain a firm texture.
With so many strawberry products in Japan, a visit to Ebina is the perfect family day trip in spring. It’s not difficult to see why Japan consumes so many strawberries and, once you have mastered your picking technique, you will certainly want to visit again.
How To Get To The Strawberry Road
It takes 44 minutes on the Odakyu Line’s rapid express service from Shinjuku Station to Ebina Station. From Ebina Station, follow signs for the West Exit bus stops and take bus 16 towards Chogo for 15 minutes. You should alight at Kamigouchi intersection and it’s a 10-minute walk to the Strawberry Road.
Feature photo: barmalini / Shutterstock.com