Strawberries were first introduced to Japan in the 1830s by the Dutch. By the 1990s, strawberry consumption had become widespread, and today nearly 300 varieties of Japanese strawberries have been developed, characterized by their uniform size and sweet flesh. Tochigi Prefecture, dubbed the “Strawberry Kingdom,” is one of Japan’s largest producers, best-known for its Tochiotome strawberry, created in 1996. Another famous strawberry is the juicy Amaou from Fukuoka Prefecture, developed in 2005.
A small but lucrative luxury market offers rare varieties, including enormous berries as large as 80 grams (3 oz.), and Japan’s unique white strawberries. Most strawberries are grown in greenhouses, with peak season falling from December to May. Many greenhouses allow people to enjoy strawberry-picking, so they can savor the berries fresh off the vine. They are also enjoyed in sweets such as ichigo daifuku, a surprising wagashi Japanese confectionery with a modern twist. In its center is a whole strawberry, surrounded by sweet azuki red bean paste, covered by soft mochi.