By Mandy Bartok
There’s nothing sweeter than picking fruit just for you and eating it right away, perched on a crate in the orchard. At least, that’s what I found while on a fruit-picking tour in Kumamoto Prefecture.
Located in the heart of Kyushu, Kumamoto is blessed with mountains, sea and lush grassland that have won it a reputation for high-quality produce.
In response to the boom in inbound tourism and as part of ongoing recovery efforts following the earthquakes that struck the prefecture in 2016, local organizations have built on Kumamoto’s agricultural heritage to develop new agri-tour offerings featuring opportunities to both taste and harvest the produce. I went to try out two of them.
Yuhouen Fruits Land
An established swathe of farmland for generations, Yuhouen Fruits Land dates from the late 1940s, when the owner began growing pears and oranges on the terraced fields. The area’s mild climate, gentle slopes and excellent drainage resulted in good yields and the business soon expanded. Next came grapes, persimmons, strawberries, chestnuts and figs, which became popular, too.
Not content with simply sales, though, Yuhouen Fruits Land sought to share the unique taste of freshly picked fruit, and so began offering fruit picking. Today, visitors come from across Japan as well as abroad for the experience.
After explaining the company’s passion for freshly picked fruit, our guide gives a quick and easy demonstration on picking mandarin oranges before giving us a cloth bag and sending us off to explore the rows of ripe fruit. As the experience includes all-you-can-eat, we tuck into some straight away while enjoying the view, before getting some to take home.
On the way out, we stop by the on-site café to try signature cakes featuring seasonal fruit picked at the orchards. The persimmon and chestnut options were delicious.
Yuhouen Fruits Land is open year-round, with different fruits available both for picking and at the café depending on the season.
Light rain didn’t dampen our spirits as we headed to our next stop, Hirano Orchard. Nestled amongst plains of cultivated fields, its orchards produce four kinds of nashi as well as peaches.
As we entered the orchard, we ducked as the trees are not high enough to accommodate our height. Our guide explains that despite their small stature, nashi trees are difficult to care for.
Pruning runs from November to March, with trimming in April before each pear is placed in an individual paper bag in June, for protection. Harvesting then begins in July and runs until November.
Plucking the nashi from the trees required more effort than did the mandarin oranges but the delicious flavor made it worthwhile. We also enjoyed a fun tasting challenge as our guide introduced us to the differences between two kinds of nashi, fresh from the orchard.
With so much delicious fruit available, I was glad that both Yuhouen Fruits Land and Hirano Orchard offered an on-site packaging and delivery service to help transport our harvest home.
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