When you wander around Tokyo’s department stores, there’s usually a floor loaded with food in the basement—sweet, savory, samples and everything in between. It’s called a depachika. Every time I visit the one under Shibuya Station in the Tokyu Department Store, I’m amazed by what I find—especially in the fruit section. It’s either a freak show of size or a museum of the most perfectly made fruit at ridiculous prices. No touching, but you can definitely buy.
On a recent trip, I saw this. The White Strawberry.
Watch the video of my luxury fruit unboxing here:
One strawberry came in its own case, almost like jewelry but unlike the 25,000-yen melon ($250) this was only 1,080 yen ($10). Still super expensive for one strawberry, but I figured I could take the financial hit to satisfy my curiosity.
About Japan’s White Strawberries
What I had purchased with my lunch money was called the Shiroi Houseki (白い宝石 ) or White Gem/Jewel. Created by Mr. Teshima in Saga prefecture, it’s truly an amazing fruit to see and hold in person. A stunning white, 50 grams big and smells incredibly sweet, even through the container.
I wanted to know more so I called Mr. Teshima at his farm and asked him how he got it so white. He said he cross-bred the seeds for many generations as well as significantly restricted direct sunlight.
There’s a natural chemical inside fruits and vegetables called anthocyanin which gives it its color. Reduce the sunlight and it doesn’t activate, keeping it pale like the pigment in human skin. Ten percent of all the Shirou Houseki strawberries stay perfectly white even after the berry is picked and exposed to direct sunlight—and those perfectly white ones are rare, like jewels or gems. In Japan, novelty sells, especially if it is a rare and expensive fruit.
There are so many varieties/cultivars of strawberries in Japan. The Hatsukoi no Kaori or “Scent of First Love” is Japan’s first white strawberry, different than the pineberry because of its size, softer skin and juiciness and sugar content. It was created by Miyoshi Agritech Co. of Yamanashi in 2006.
Since 2006, many more original cultivars of white strawberries have been created.
– Yuki Usagi “Snow Rabbit” 雪うさぎ
– Sakura ichigo “Cherry Blossom Strawberry” さくらいちご
– Tenshi no Mi “” Fruit of the Angels’ 天使の味
– Shiroi Houseki “White Jewel / White Gem” 白い宝石
– Hatsukoi no Kaori “Scent of First Love” 初恋の香り
Who Buys a $10 Strawberry
In Japan, these luxury fruits are almost always gifts. Normal strawberries are considerably cheaper and those are what most people buy for themselves. The $250 melon. Yup, that’s a gift too.
Since Japan is a gift-giving country, buying the best of something is truly the best gift to be received, especially something you would never buy yourself but always wanted.
What does it taste like?
Well, each variety has a different taste to it. The Shiroi Houseki smells very sweet. The skin is very soft. The first bite is juicy with a initial taste like fresh pineapple—but that disappears after a couple of seconds. It gets sweet like candy. Not too overpowering. Unlike candy, the natural sugars don’t stay in your mouth and leaves a fresh aftertaste.
The strawberry season in Japan is from December to March, winter being the best season because the berry ripens more slowly, building up the natural sugar content and color (if red) over a greater period of time. Temperature control is essential. Unlike most strawberries worldwide, Japan’s strawberries are almost all grown in greenhouses so controlling its growth it easier. Even for a simple piece of fruit, I found that a lot of work goes into making sure it’s perfectly made. The Japanese consumer wouldn’t buy it otherwise.
Since Japan is the world’s no.1 producer of sweet red dessert strawberries, trying strawberries in Japan is a must and if you happen to stumble upon a white jewel of a berry, cough up the 1080 yen and try it, just for fun. It makes for a fantastic few bites and really interesting story.
For more videos on Japan’s unique goings-on, check out the ONLY in JAPAN YouTube channel.
JNTO ( Japan National Tourism Organization) – Fruits of Japan (Japan: No.1 dessert strawberry producer and consumer in the world)