Japan’s unique winter fruits

16 Jan 2020 in Food Culture

From yuzu-infused hot springs to luxury strawberry breakfasts, here’s how to experience Japanese winter fruits!

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Despite heavy snowfall and sub-zero temperatures, a wide range of fresh fruit flourishes in Japan’s winter months. Many native citrus trees are extremely hardy, their branches bearing bundles of snow-covered fruit. Strawberries are also strongly associated with winter, and Japan is home to some 300 different varieties!

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And many Japanese will tell you about the winter tradition of unpeeling mikan mandarins around a kotatsu heated table.

Head to Japan in the winter and you’ll discover a world of fruit you may never have encountered. This year, Hoshino Resorts is organizing multiple ways to make the most of the seasonal fruits – from strawberry-themed stays to citrus hot spring baths.

What better way to relax after a day exploring the snow-filled scenery of rural Japan?

Romantic berry

While Japanese strawberries are grown outdoors in spring and early summer, they’re best-known as a winter fruit cultivated in vast greenhouses. They’re also viewed as a luxury and closely associated with romance.

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A number of varieties have love-inspired names, such as Aiberi (Love berry) or Hatsukoi no Kaori (Scent of first love), a white-flesh berry with pink skin. The ultimate gift for your loved one? The enormous all-white Shiroi Houseki (White jewel), which usually costs around 1000 yen per berry.

More common varieties include the small, sweet Tochiotome from Tochigi Prefecture, while Amao from Fukuoka Prefecture is round, rich and often very big.

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Or how about the slightly acidic Benihoppe “red cheeks” from Shizuoka?

Strawberry stay

For the full winter strawberry experience, head to one of three KAI ryokans offering special themed programs this winter.

In the mountains north of Tokyo, Hoshino Resorts KAI Nikko has created a pop-up Panoramic Tearoom for the season, offering prime lakeside views of the snow-covered volcano Mt. Nantai.

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At sunset and sunrise, you can come here to taste Japan’s much sought-after white strawberries, complete with a fondue dip of sweet bean jelly (a Nikko speciality).

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In the morning, head here to treat yourself to champagne, strawberries, and raw strawberry daifuku, a local mochi-based specialty. What’s more, you’ll be served strawberry sweet rice wine (amazake) when you first arrive, and a revitalizing strawberry milk after taking a hot spring bath.

Or how about heading to strawberry heartland in Tochigi Prefecture with a stay at Hoshino Resorts KAI Kawaji? Located in the snow-strewn Japanese Alps, with free shuttle buses to prime ski stations, this ryokan is also offering a strawberry-themed stay until the end of February. You’ll be able to pick your own Tochiotome berries in the property’s watermill and then make a strawberry oshiruko — sweet red bean soup— with white strawberries.

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At Hoshino Resorts KAI Kinugawa, also in Tochigi Prefecture, you’ll have a chance to sample different Japanese strawberry varieties while sipping on champagne. For dinner, the chef creates a strawberry and red wine paper hot-pot vanilla ice cream.

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Citrus for the senses

If you’re a fan of citrus fruit, you’ll have plenty to choose from during Japan’s winter. Yuzu is a firm favourite, its lumpy yellow skin eventually ripening to green and its acidic juice regularly used in cooking and skin products. Bathing in yuzu is said to improve the circulation and help fight off winter illness.

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At Hoshino Resorts KAI Izumo in yuzu-producing Shimane Prefecture, you can lie back in natural hot spring baths surrounded by floating yuzu. A great way to recharge your batteries after a day visiting Izumo Taisha, one of the most iconic shrines in Japan.

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Other winter citrus fruit includes the iyokan, which resembles a mandarin and has a juicy, slightly bitter taste; and the mikan, an easy-to-peel satsuma orange that is strongly associated with winter.

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Or how about the dekopon, a large, very sweet and seedless mandarin variety easily recognizable by the bumpy growth on its top?

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As it originates from Japan’s southern island of Kyushu, it’s often used in the local cuisine, including on the winter menu at Hoshino Resorts KAI Aso. Set within the volcanic landscapes of the Aso-Kuju National Park, the ryokan is a great choice if you prefer more temperate climates in winter.

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And at nearby farms, you’ll also be able to discover everything from the sour and highly-prized local kabosu to the mandarin-pomelo hybrid ponkan.

A whole world of fruit awaits you!

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