The title of this post was chosen mostly to maximise on search engine hits for anyone hankering for some summer fruit picking. But the particular blueberry farm I’ll be telling you about in located a village called Yamagata (Yamagata-mura, not to be confused with the prefecture, Yamagata-ken) and is located a short bus ride or bike ride from Matsumoto.
Summer is damn hot and humid in Japan. Like…super hot. And super humid. Back home in Australia, I would battle through week-long heat waves (40°C+) every summer, and whilst it was always a terrible terrible hardship for me, a handful of summers stand out from my university years when I lived in places with no aircon. Wah wah wah. All that being said, Japan’s humidity takes the cake for discomfort during summer. You will be soaked in sweat regardless of how mild the temperature is.
One of the best ways to combat this whilst getting outnabout, is going for bike rides. The sun is intense and very burny, but with appropriate sun protection (sunscreen, glasses, hats), riding along can be a top way to enjoy your day.
On a Saturday morning, we left central Matsumoto with one of our friends to go blueberry picking in Yamagata village. It’s about a 30minute bus ride or 1hr bike ride (11kms). One of my students is the adult son of the owners of this particular blueberry farm, and the whole family is ridiculously kind and lovely. The first time we made the trip earlier in the summer, they drove us into the village proper to check out the well-reputed soba shop that serves three kinds of soba (fancy!). The last time we visited we were gifted with deliciously fresh tomatoes, eggplants, and cucumbers, along with our first-class, well-priced blueberries.
The ride to the farm was pretty enjoyable. We all wanted to avoid riding on truck-heavy main roads that lacked footpaths (riding on footpaths is the done thing in Japan, in case you didn’t know) so instead, found an awesome alternative route through farming areas. Along these ‘backroads’ we met some beautiful heifers at a little dairy then cycled along (sealed) farming roads lined with tomatoes, watermelons, apples, corn, blueberries and rice paddies.
Once arriving at the blueberry farm, you’re treated to a friendly introduction on how to get the most out of your blueberry picking. The friendliness and context-based actions mean you can understand plenty with zero Japanese knowledge… your warm and friendly host will show you how to sight the sweet (amai), ripe blueberries, from the sour (suppai), underripe ones, inviting you to sample the differences in taste. Not only will you learn to discern this difference, you’ll get to see and taste the differences between the various varietals available… for only 300yen you can eat as many blueberries as you like whilst picking for your stash to take home.
The buckets are marked with black lines to indicate the approximate height of what ‘1kg’ or ‘2kgs’ of blueberries comes to. 1kg costs about 1200yen (August 2016), a price so reasonable it will make you want to cry when you eventually have to buy pre-packaged blueberries from the supermarket again.
After your time picking, you’re warmly welcomed to sit and relax in some shade, and enjoy the complimentary barley tea and whatever farm-fresh treats are on offer.
Picking season ends sometime in August. Check the website for more details: http://park20.wakwak.