“You will have thirty minutes to pick and eat as many strawberries as you like.” We had pulled into a parking lot in front of a field of small yellow blossoms gently waving in the breeze. As we got off the bus at Nirayama Strawberry Picking Center (website in Japanese only), we found ourselves across the street from a series of barrel-vaulted greenhouses covered in opaque plastic sheeting. We gathered in front of one with our tour leaders and were each handed a small rectangular plastic tray for collecting the stems from our eaten strawberries. Each tray had a thick puddle of sweetened condensed milk in a well in one corner. This confection proved to be utterly unnecessary.
After receiving our trays, we entered the greenhouse, where we were greeted by low rows of green foliage, stems heavy with countless strawberries in colors ranging from pale green to brilliant scarlet. Other than a few employees, we had the greenhouse to ourselves and we made quick work of fanning out among the strawberry plants.
According to the Japan National Tourism Organization, “Japan currently has the largest production and consumption of dessert strawberries in the world.” We were informed by one of our tour leaders that Japanese strawberries sell in New York City for as much as $4 per berry. I’m not saying I would actually pay that much for a strawberry, but they were definitely that delicious. “Dessert” is an understatement. The berries were just shy of being cloyingly sweet, their sugary juices exploding to fill the mouth when bitten into. Why anyone would need the sweetened condensed milk is beyond me. They were just so good as they were.
After we had stuffed ourselves silly with strawberries, we boarded the bus and I snuggled into my seat for a sugar-induced nap as we continued on toward the mountains of Hakone.