Saturday, January 18, 2014

Aiberry From Tounosho-machi

 "If you keep my secret, 
this strawberry is yours."
Tsugumi Ohba,
Death Note Box Set

A quick question before I begin this entry. What do you call strawberries which are grown with love?

Aiberry, or "love strawberry".

You call it Aiberry (アイベリー). "Ai" (愛) in Japanese, means love, and that is how you get the name aiberry. And I kid you not, because this is the king of luxury strawberries which goes as much as 500 yen a pop. Aiberry is touted as the 21st century equivalent of the cantaloupe, or "musk melon", which was typically the go-to fruit when foreign media wanted to demonstrate the utter ridiculousness of high-priced Japanese food culture. One best example was a pair of cantaloupe melons from Hokkaido which fetch 1.6 million yen in 2013.

Back to this strawberry of love (read: aiberry), it refers to a kind of large, sweet and fragrant berries found only in Japan. It represents Japan's best effort to date of getting strawberries to mimic watermelons, which still keeping sugar level high. Japanese strawberries are not grown commercially because they are too soft and would be hard to pack. But they are perfect for the home gardener. They have the most amazing taste. Very sweet and juicy.

First stop of the day - strawberry picking in Tounosho-machi.

Hayashi's Farm is one of the seven strawberry farms found in this town. And yes, it snowed that morning.

A banner which is written with the word "aiberry" (アイベリー).

As usual, the Chiba Kun Ambassadors are always given a warm welcome at each of the places we visit.

We had our forth and final Chiba Kun Ambassadors tour over the weekend and the first stop took us to Mr Hayashi's farm for ichigogari (いちご狩り). The idea is, we were given thirty minutes, and within this period of time, we get to pick and eat-all-we-can the strawberries in the farm. Sounds like a great deal, isn't it?

And guess what, this farm only grows aiberry! Thirty minutes to enjoy the delights of this rare gem!

Tada! The dozen long rows of strawberries ready to be attacked lol!

Aiberries from afar. Apparently, the smaller aiberries are as sweet as their gigantic cousins.

Lets take a closer look at these berries. On average, each pop measures about 10 cm long and 4 cm wide.

I was told that berries which weird shapes like this are generally sweeter.

We were given some short briefings on the berries grown in this farm, and what are the do's and don'ts while we are picking the strawberries. Among them, you should not wash the berries with water, since it might deplete the aroma. Just "blow on it" to get ride of any residue. Then you smell it, hold it up to the light to "enjoy the color", say goodbye, and then slowly eat the berry one bite at a time, savoring not only the flavour (each part of the strawberry has a different grade of "sweetness") but also the "structure".

When it is over, you can even appreciate the aftertaste and start to hunt for the next berry.

And so, we started our strawberry buffet-cum-breakfast hahaha!

Say i-chee-go!

Despite being busy with the berries, Ros and I still had time for selfie in the farm hahaha!

Everyone were in aesthetic to see such huge strawberries for the first time in our life.

Happy faces of Chiba Kun Ambassadors, enjoying the strawberries full of love haha! (photo credit: Ayako Uchiyama).

There are seven strawberry farms in Tounosho-machi and all of these farms grows the high-quality aiberry. There is a stretch, called the Strawberry Highway (いちご街道, ichigo kaido), in which there are direct-selling strawberries stalls set up along the route 356 in this town.

The best season to enjoy the strawberries is between February to March. The temperature difference between the warm day time and chill night time plays an important part in producing delicious strawberries.

The total damage done in thirty minutes.

I'll say this about Japan, when it comes to fruit, they pull out all the stops. Sure it may be expensive and all that, but this is one instance where you get what you pay for. In Malaysia, you can buy a bag of 20 apples for a couple bucks, but half of them may be duds, and they are small. And sometimes, if you are lucky, they will come with unexpected new friends (read: caterpillars lol!).

In Japan fruit is big! Farmers grow and care for fruit like they would their own children. Each fruit is individually wrapped in protective paper or maybe a plastic bubble, while it is still on the tree. The way they are groomed, pampered and polished, you'd think each piece was being readied for a personal meeting with the emperor or something.

The staff packing the aiberries manually, by grading them according to sizes and quality.

And here you are, just in case you wonder how much these red gems cost.

There are also other strawberry-based souvenir such as cookies and snacks.

And just a simple trivia about strawberries to cap up this entry. The actual fruit part of the strawberry are the little seeds on the outside, not the juicy red stuff you are eating.  Strawberries are actually not berries nor are they made of straw. They are actually what is known as an accessory fruit.

Hayashi Strawberry Farm (林いちご園)
Opening hours: 10:00 - 16:00 (operates from early January - mid-May)
Price: 1,700 yen (eat-all-you-can for 30 minutes, between Jan 5 - 31), 1,500 yen for children between 3 -6 years old.
Price ranges according to season. Check the website for details.
Tel: 0478-86-4019 (Mon - Fri), 0478-86-1614 (Sat, Sun, national holidays)
Parking: 40 cars.
: 1120, Sasagawaro, Tounosho-machi, Katori-gun, Chiba Prefecture, 289-0602, Japan. 

Website: (Japanese only)

Access: Train: From JR Sasagawa station (JR 笹川駅), 20 minutes by foot.

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