Fruit picking is a popular recreational activity in Japan.
I’m not joking.
A couple months ago, the old Japanese TA at my Univeristy (who happens to live about 2 hours away from me, by train) told me to mark my calendar for the weekend of September 28th – 30th. We were going grape picking.
Except she didn’t use the term “grape picking”. She used the term “grape hunting.”
Just for fun, when I got home, I typed it into google translate
But anyways, as I said before, fruit picking is a popular activity and in Japan. There are entire towns that center around the tourism associated with the fruit – we went to Makioka – a town full of beautiful vineyards. I found out that grape picking was her family’s tradition.
I don’t know how common that is among other Japanese families, but it was their 14th year going to this vineyard.
(One of the other vineyards in Makioka)
When we drove up, the owner (who Chiaki had described as a “philosopher who doesn’t know he is a philosopher and is critical of the educational system), greeted them by name and rushed us drinks. After we parked Chiaki’s elderly grandparents in the shade near the main, wooden shack that held food, drinks, and large, white cardboard grape crates, we headed out to the “fields.”
(The Philosopher and I. It was funny, because right when we were about to leave, I asked him if I could take a picture with him. He scowled and barked out NO! I shrank back because I thought I had offended him, but he just laughed and grabbed me around the solders for a picture. Huh. Apparently older Japanese people do have a sense of humor.)
And I call it a field because it really was rows and rows of grapes stretching out across the mountain-side. We could also see Mt. Fuji pretty clearly.
But the best part, of course, was “Grape Hunting” itself. And I’m going to keep calling it grape hunting, because that name amuses me – sorry.
If you, too, want to go grape hunting, here is a fun guide to figuring it out!
1. Find the vineyard. If you’re lucky, someone else will find it for you. Make sure you research the “season” of your fruit, prices, if you can get there by public transportation, holidays, and hours of operation.
If you can’t find one, I recommend the town Makioka (まきおか). That was the one we went to, and there were tons of other fields aside from ours.
2. Grab a group of friends and go to the vineyard. It is so much more fun with friends. If I had a car, I would totally go back again with more people.
3. Get a pair of child’s scissors ad the entrance . If you are really short (by Japanese standards), you can also get a stool. I saw three baskets of scissors around the entrance of the vineyards.
Mine were adorable and yellow.
4. Find the perfect grapes. Look for ripeness – but not too ripe, color – but not too deep, and size – bigger is usually better. Ours were all purple, but I’ve seen other vineyards that have white grapes. I can’t taste the difference.
I noticed that about halfway through the vineyard, the grapes were covered with white, cloth bags. When I asked Chiaki’s dad about it, he said that it was to protect the grapes from strong winds and rain. Japan is known for its typhoons (ironic, because that next afternoon there was, in fact, a typhoon – and I got stuck biking home in the rain. It was terrifying. When I eventually got home – after being blown around the road, my elderly next-door neighbor was tying bikes down. He was nice enough to secure mine, too)
You can’t eat these grapes. Sorry.
Every day, the owner comes by and “releases” a couple more grapes, in a row, so that people will systematically go through the grapes.
I took a couple close up-pictures of the bags.
5. Cut a grape stem off and eat the whole bunch.
Japanese grapes are a little bit different than American grapes – mainly because you don’t eat the peel. For advice on eating Japanese grapes, look at my earlier post (here)
Don’t eat the grapes right off the vine. That’s kind of weird and a little rude. Commit to the whole bunch before you eat them.
(Chiaki and I, after a successful “hunt”)
6. Spit the peels on the ground. It’s good for the environment. That means, though, that you can’t really sit down on the ground if you get tired of standing. And, if you’re tall (once again, by Japanese standards) like me, you might be stuck awkwardly hutched over during your grape hunting.
Or, like me, if you just don’t care and are wearing dark jeans, you can just sit on the ground and not care about the peels.
Tip: Wear dark jeans when you go grape hunting.
7. Repeat steps 4-6 until you get tired of grapes. For me, that came near the end of my first bunch. Japanese grapes are enormous and incredibly sweet. Chiaki’s dad was the only one who managed to eat more than one bunch (I think). He had two. I was impressed
(One of the smaller bunches. Japanese grapes are enormous!)
But then again, it is all-you-can-eat grapes. You usually have to pay to take them home, but can eat as many as you want at the farm. It reminded me of the family blueberry (and one time strawberry) picking trips we used to take when I was little, every time we visited my Nonnie up in Connecticut.
8. Laze around in the sun relaxing until the owner eventually kicks you out or you run out of picking time. I don’t know what our time limit was – but while we were waiting, the owner cooked us 焼き肉 (Japanese BBQ) and made us drink some of the wine he had made with leftover grapes.
It wasn’t as good as my Cousin Sarah’s wine (she owns a vineyard out in Arizona) – but it was pretty good, especially because it wasn’t made with traditional wine grapes.
He said he used the red grapes to make it – his vineyard had both types.
9. Run back into the vineyard to take more pictures – and blame it on the fact that you’re a curious foreigner.
I wanted to take pictures so I wouldn’t forget. Everything was so interesting and beautiful.
I told Chiaki I wanted to live here when I grew up. Maybe if I’m lucky, and once she becomes super-rich from being a teacher (because, you know, teachers are just rolling in dough) – she will buy it for me!
I doubt it, though.
Anyways, the two things that I really found interesting and wanted to highlight were the “scarecrows” and the placement of the vines.
When I went to my cousin’s vineyard, the trees/vines were fairly close together – usually every ten steps or so.
It was managed very well and the vines were easy to access and control. In fact, they even trimmed the vines every year. They were also parallel rows, so that you could easily walk in between and care for the grapes.
This was completely different. It was like a room of vines, with the actual “trees” very far apart. There were, of course, supports every five steps or so – but they still seemed very far apart.
Then, the second part was the scarecrows.
I don’t blame them. The grapes were delicious. If I was a crow, I would totally try to eat them. The funny part was, though, that they used a crow to scare the crows.
There were probably a million other things I wasn’t able to catch. If you want to learn more about grape hunting, you’re just going to have to go yourself!
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