Fruit is extremely popular in Japan. It is served at schools, restaurants, cafes, ryokan, in cakes, in parfaits, and even in sandwiches (no, really)! Fruit-picking experiences are also among the most popular domestic tourist activities in many prefectures.
In addition, many fruits are deeply entrenched in Japanese culture and have become intertwined with Japanese identity.
Alongside all of this, Japan has developed a booming luxury fruit industry, with some prized specimens fetching hundreds of thousands to millions of yen at auction! This brings us to our first question, often asked by visitors to Japan…
Why Are Japanese Fruits So Expensive?
It is certainly true that on average, fruit in Japan costs more than in other parts of the world, especially if you are from parts of Europe, America, or Asia where fruit is easy to grow and cheap to buy.
There are a number of reasons why Japan charges more for fruit, but the main reason is that fruit is not considered a cheap snack in Japan as it is elsewhere. Fruit is considered a privilege to eat, buy and receive. We'll get into the finer details in this blog post, but you can also read more about expensive fruits in Japan on Japan Truly!
Another factor is the challenge of growing fruit in Japan. As a mostly mountainous country with little room to grow fruit and a humid climate, raising a crop of tasty fruits is a real challenge. This means that Japanese farmers have to dedicate a lot of their time and resources to what is really quite a limited, highly seasonal supply. As you can imagine, without charging a fairly high price, they would see very little financial return for their efforts.
In spite of this, most fruit in Japan is still affordable. The expensive melons, grapes, and strawberries you might see in department stores or auctioned at food markets are very much the exception to the rule. These are luxury fruits, usually to be served at high-end restaurants or hotels or as extravagant gifts. Their cost reflects not only their superior flavor, but also the hard work that goes into raising them.
Fortunately, much of the fruit we will cover on this list won’t cost you that much to try. Join us as we dive deep into this definitive list of Japanese fruits!
What is a “Japanese fruit”? In truth, much of Japan’s fruit was introduced from China during the country’s early history but has been cultivated in Japan ever since. Some, such as the yuzu, have become so synonymous with the country as to be labeled Japanese fruits.
However, some on this list are unique to Japan. It should also be noted that Japan has cultivated a variety of new and delicious species of non-native fruits, making them all their own– take the delicious Yubari Melon, or the Amaou Strawberry or the deluxe Kyoho Grape, for example! It’s these cultivars that visitors are referring to when they say “Japanese fruit”.
With that out of the way, let’s explore some of Japan’s amazing fruits!
- Muscat Grapes
- Nashi Pear
- Japanese Plum
- Miyazaki Mango
- Ishigaki Peach Pineapple
1. Mandarin or Satsuma Orange (Mikan・みかん)
Sweet and juicy, these Japanese oranges have been in the country for centuries and have become a huge part not just of Japanese cuisine, but Japanese culture. Mikan are grown all over the country, but Ehime and Shizuoka prefectures are among the most renowned producers. It is highly affordable and available almost all year round, making it a staple in the fruit bowl of most Japanese households.
2. Yuzu Citrus (Yuzu・柚子)
Japan is both the world’s biggest producer and consumer of the yuzu citrus, with Kochi prefecture taking the crown for yuzu production.
While eating one on its own is not recommended, its aromatic peel and juice lends itself well to Japanese cooking and, increasingly, sweets. Its flavor is quite hard to describe– imagine a herb-infused lemonade, and you’re getting somewhere close.
3. Watermelon (Suika・スイカ)
Watermelon found its way to Japan from China several hundred years ago. Today, it is a very popular fruit and has become an icon of its summer season.
If you visit Ginza’s high-end department stores in summer, you might see some wacky (not to mention expensive) cube-shaped watermelons! These are grown in a box to influence the melon’s shape.
Watermelon is often sold as a luxury fruit, but whole and pre-cut watermelon can be purchased at most Japanese supermarkets for a reasonable price.
4. Muskmelon (Meron・メロン)
Muskmelons are fairly new to Japan and are grown in several prefectures, but Ibaraki and Hokkaido both take the crown. Like watermelons, they are in season during the summer.
Musk melons tend to be a little more pricey than watermelons. At the top of the pile is the Yubari King Melon from Hokkaido, a juicy cantaloupe that has become an icon of the prefecture. At auction, some of the first Yubari melons of the year can fetch millions of yen!
Fortunately, like watermelon, you can find more affordable muskmelons at Japanese supermarkets in whole and cut form.
5. Strawberry (Ichigo・苺)
Since being imported to Japan in the early 20th century, strawberries have become a luxury fruit. Their Japanese season may surprise westerners– strawberries do not keep well in humid conditions, so in Japan, they are winter fruits as opposed to the summer fruit you may know.
The most famous of Japan’s strawberries is Fukuoka prefecture’s Amaou, often called “the king of strawberries”. They have a pleasing sweetness and very little tartness, making them delicious eaten raw. However, they are also popular in parfaits, crepes, and other sweets during their winter season.
6. Grapes (Budo・ぶどう)
Like many of the fruits on this list, grapes came to Japan from China but it’s only in the last century or so that they have been grown for wider consumption. Japanese grapes today are mostly seedless with thick, almost black skins that are peeled away before eating the jelly-like flesh inside. The Kyoho grape, grown in Yamanashi and Nagano prefecture, is a national favorite, known for its large, juicy fruit and deep flavor. Kyoho grapes are considered a luxury fruit and can be quite expensive to purchase during their August-September season. Smaller grapes with seeds tend to be the most affordable.
7. Muscat Grapes（Masukatto・マスカット)
Linked to the above are muscat grapes or white grapes. They are less juicy than Japan’s purple grapes, but that makes them no less delicious! Japanese also tend to eat muscat grapes skin-on.
A popular variety is the Shine Muscat, nicknamed “the Queen of Muscat Grapes”. They are enormous, ping pong ball-sized white grapes with a crisp flavor that fetch a pretty penny at the supermarket. Like Kyoho grapes, they tend to be grown in Nagano and Yamanashi prefectures and are in season from late summer to early autumn.
8. Persimmon (Kaki・柿)
If ever there were a fruit to represent Japan’s autumn, it would have to be persimmons. They have been grown in Japan since ancient times, referenced in poetry and illustrated in traditional art. They are usually eaten from October through November.
There are actually two varieties of persimmon in Japan. One has a pointed end and high astringency, making it a better option for dried fruit (dried persimmons are known as “hoshi-gaki” in Japanese). The other is rounder and sweeter and is best enjoyed raw.
9. Nashi Pear (Nashi・梨)
“Nashi” in Japanese refers specifically to this Japanese pear. When referring to western pears, a different word, “yo-nashi” (literally meaning “western nashi”) is used.
The Nashi pear looks more like an apple in its rounded appearance. Just like apples, its flavor is more or less tart depending on how rouged the skin is. Like so many fruits on this list, it is best eaten raw, though nashi juice and nashi-flavored drinks and ice creams can be found seasonally.
Nashi is in season from July through to October.
10. Japanese Plum (Ume・梅)
“Japanese plum” perhaps brings to mind fragrant March blossoms rather than a fruit, but the fruit is an important part of Japanese culture.
On fruiting cultivars, the plums mature in June-July and are often picked while still green. Raw, they are almost inedible, but they are an essential part of Japanese cuisine when pickled or preserved. Two common examples are umeboshi, a pickled plum, and umeshu, plum liquor. As the ingredients are simple and little skill is required to make them, they are very commonly made in Japanese households.
11. Peach (Momo・桃)
It is only recently that the large, sweet, white-flesh peaches we associate with Japan have come to be and they are the result of selective cultivation. Wild Japanese peaches tend to be small and very sour!
Still, peaches have a special place in Japanese culture. Having been grown in Japan for centuries, they and their fragrant blossoms feature heavily in classic literature and folktales. For example, there is the tale of “Momotaro”, a story about a boy who pops out of a peach and goes on swashbuckling adventures with a pheasant, a dog, and a monkey!
The skin on Japanese peaches tends to be rougher and thicker than nectarines or yellow-flesh peaches, so they are best enjoyed raw with the skin peeled off.
12. Chestnuts (Kuri・栗)
So revered are chestnuts in Japan, that they are held in the same regard as fruits. They are extremely hard to come by outside of their short autumn season (September to October) and are beloved by young and old.
Japanese chestnuts are larger and more aromatic than their western counterparts. As their sweetness increases the longer they are off the tree, they are often preserved in syrups and eaten as a treat, if not roasted and eaten during their season. They are also a very important ingredient at New Year in Japan, representing luck and fortune in the year ahead.
13. Sudachi Citrus (Sudachi・スダチ)
Sudachi citrus has been used in Japanese cooking for centuries and is 100% native to the Japanese archipelago.
Like the yuzu, you wouldn’t want to eat this fruit on its own as it is very sour. However, its lime-like aroma lends itself very well to a number of dishes. It’s not unusual to see a small slice or wedge of sudachi with fish or noodle dishes in Japan.
Tokushima prefecture in Shikoku produces the vast majority of the country’s sudachi, and it has been adopted as the prefecture’s emblem as a result.
14. Miyazaki Mango (宮崎マンゴー)
Miyazaki mangos are also known as “Taiyo no tamago” (eggs of the sun), being grown in copious sunlight in one of Japan’s warmest prefectures. They have become an extremely popular fruit in recent years.
Miyazaki mangoes are known for their juiciness and sweetness, as well as their beautiful, gem-like red color. Unlike many Japanese fruits, they are not harvested until they naturally drop off the tree. Their season is usually between May and June.
Of course, their delicious flavor and high status as home-grown tropical fruit makes them quite expensive, so they are considered a luxury fruit. Like Yubari melons, Miyzaki mangoes can fetch millions of yen when auctioned off. Fortunately, there are a lot of shops in Miyazaki prefecture where you can get a taste of this magical mango in the form of a much more affordable parfait or dessert!
15. Ishigaki Peach-Pineapple (石垣島ピーチパイン)
The name of this fruit might cause you to wonder if it is a hybrid between a peach and a pineapple. You’d be half-right– as its name would suggest, this pineapple, unique to Ishigaki island in Okinawa, tastes unusually close to a peach.
The Peach-Pineapple is a relatively small variety with a paler, softer flesh than its larger cousins, as well as a lower acid content. As it is so small, almost every part of the pineapple is edible, even the core. In season from May to August, this fruit is abundant on Ishigaki island but quite rare outside of Okinawa and even rarer outside of Japan. All the more reason to give it a try!
The Art of Fruit Sandwiches
All of these fruits look amazing, but there will always be circumstances where time, seasonality, or budget might not allow you to purchase them. In that case, look no further than a "fruit sando", or fruit sandwich!
Fruit sandwiches, as their name suggests, are simply sweet and juicy Japanese fruit between two slices of Japanese “shokupan” milk bread. Instead of butter, however, the sandwiches are generously padded out with sweet whipped cream.
But why, though? Well, why not! Not only is this an affordable way to enjoy Japan’s high-quality fruit, it’s also very delicious! Each bite is like a fruity, creamy dream come true.
You can purchase fruit sandwiches at little expense in convenience stores but if you fancy treating yourself, there are plenty of tea rooms and fruit parlors across Japan that offer more extravagant takes on this popular dessert.
Author’s Pick - The Superfruit Beloved by the Ainu
These blueberry-like fruits are haskap berries, native to Japan and found only in Hokkaido and at high altitudes in northern Honshu.
“Haskap” is the name given to these berries by Hokkaido’s indigenous Ainu people, who understood the berry to have a number of health benefits. When Japanese colonizers arrived, they too saw the benefits of the haskap berry and began cultivating it.
Today, these berries remain popular in Hokkaido. While very sour on their own, they are available in processed forms such as jams, cakes, sauces, fruit juices, fruit liquors and sodas. Their flavor is similar to blueberries, but they have a more intense, herbal burst.
Should you visit Hokkaido, I hope you’ll give them a try!
The Fantastic World of Japanese Fruits
As well as being visually appealing, Japanese fruits, raised with love and care, are among the most delicious you will ever try. You may balk at price tags in department stores, but don't be fooled-- there are plenty of places where you can try Japanese fruits for a very affordable price. If you have the opportunity, do give them a taste-- it is an experience that will forever change the way that you appreciate the humble world of fruit.