My family LOVES mikan. They love fruit of any kind really. But for a family of 5 living in Japan, fruit can sometimes be a hard thing to come by. Sometimes fruit just does not fit into the family budget. With apples costing the equivalent of a dollar or more when they are in season, or strawberries close to 5 dollars for a small pack, this mother always has to scope out the ugly fruit section where the almost ready to mold produce is discounted down from the Japanese high market prices to more frugal , and just reasonable prices. Even then, the sweet stuff just cannot make it into the shopping basket, because our paycheck has to be spent on more important things like protein, carbs and another box of erasers for the school supplies. I swear my kids are eating the erasers, too.
Fruit is certainly a delicacy for a poor family in Japan. Not out of reach , but hard to get hold of and with 5 of us, hard to hold on to. Sometimes when I am cutting into a pineapple I have bought with the yellow price down ticket still stuck to its tag, I get flashes from the animation Only Yesterday, where the family shares the not yet sweetened slice of pineapple.. Nowadays fruit is easier to get, but still very prized in Japan. This is why I think the Japanese word for fruit-picking , Gari or hunting, is so appropriate. You get to hunt and pick out exactly the fruit that you want. The juiciest tastiest, most delicious looking piece of fruit you can find in the field. And this is why, every year, our family has begun to make it a tradition to go hunting. Hunting for mikan.
Japan has a plethora of places to pick fruit, from strawberries to Japanese pears, to blueberries. Depending on where you live, and what time of year it is, you can find someplace that will let you hunt for your own fruit. The best part, depending on the place and fruit, you can eat your fill while there. Some places even allow you to take some fruit home with you. During my study abroad year, a close friend's family took me on my first ever ichigo-gari or strawberry hunt. As a birthday gift, they paid my way into a 90 minute all you can pig out on raid of a strawberry farm. The owners of the farm even provide you with sweetened condensed milk for a real dessert feel. It was a beautifully sweet experience that I really wanted to share with my family of fruit lovers. However, at 20 bucks a head, or 2000 yen should I say, a family hunt for strawberries looked very far off in the family budget. With gas and everything else needing to be figured in, the five of us would never be able to do it.
But it didn't have to be strawberries. Any fruit would do, so I did a little search into Google. I just looked for fruit picking in my prefecture and this popped up, Fruit Picking . I started searching all the farms in an hours drive radius for pricing and deals to pick fruit. I even asked facebook groups I am part of for reccomendations and that lead me to This, it's in japanese but basically , it is all you can eat oranges for 500 en plus you get a bag to take home more. It was the luckiest find! At the time I was searching, it was exactly mikan season, and our family made plans to go the next open weekend we could find.
Our only open weekend, however, happened to be the last weekend of mikan season. But luck would have it that because it was the end of the season, and the owners are super fantastically lovely wonderful amazing people, they gave each of our family members two bags to fill and take home, and did not even charge for our children. Needless to say, we stuffed our faces and had fun. That first year was the best planned trip our family has had.
The following year was not. Thinking we would have the same luck as the previous year, everyone piled into the car, ready to gorge on citrus, sweet sticky fruit. After an hour's drive out, we approached the hillside in the little valley where the mikan orchard was and expected to see a line of cars like the past year, everyone stopping at the booth to pay their fee and receive their bags before driving up the hill, but here were no cars. the booth was covered in a blue tarp and not one person was outside. Had we come on a holiday? Is the season already over? There were oh so few fruits hanging on the trees. Trying our luck, we drove to the top of the hill and spotted a family with the clear plastic bags to fill with mikan. Hopeful, we asked if the mikan -gari was still ok to do. The family apparently knew the owners and despite the season being over, were allowed to come in and scavenge for what few oranges were left on the trees. Our family hunt for mikan then turned into a hunt for the orchard owners. Determined for our fill of fruit, something we rarely could afford in the first place, we search the neighborhood, knocking on doors for the owners of the orchard. After 45 minutes and no luck, we tried once more to phone the owners. Yatta!! Again, they were fantastic sweet and wonderful! we had full range of the orchard, for only 1000 en, and no time limit. The owner was merely sorry the fruit would not be sweet. But his kindness for letting us hunt for our fruit was sweet enough to mask any tartness in the fruit we ate that day. And the next and next and next because we also got to take home so many more.
So if you are craving fruit, but do not want to pay the high prices, then just wait for November to early December and make a trip to Sakurayama. Hunt for some mikan. You will not regret it. Our family has not.