By Fi Young

A Japanese Christmas Cake (
A Japanese Christmas Cake

Happy birthday to me, Happy birth… hold on just a minute this is the 25 days Advent Christmas Botanical Calendar, so why the birthday?

My birthday does indeed fall on the 3rd day and like anyone else I do love a cake.  But the cake for today is a Japanese Christmas Cake.  However, Japanese do not celebrate Christmas so the 25/26 December is not a national public holiday but it doesn’t stop them celebrating or eating cake.

So move along you traditional Christmas cake ingredients cinnamon, nutmeg, cherries and sultanas, it’s time for the strawberry! The strawberry I hear you cry as you think hot summer days and Wimbledon Tennis!  Yes, the strawberry!

This cake is lush.  It can be any shape you want and is easily made.  Make a light sponge, cover it with lashing of whipped cream and decorate with strawberries.  For those of you with Masterchef skills variations on this theme abound [1].

White iced Christmas Cake with strawberries iced as snowmen
Puni Puni Japan LLC (2012) Image of Christmas Cake @×1024.jpg

Now I have tantalised you with the cake, let’s go ‘hug’ the strawberry (don’t get it on your clothes now!).

Fragaria x ananassa commonly known as the garden strawberry is an artificial hybrid between Fragaria virginiana Mill., the scarlet strawberry from Eastern North America and the walnut sized fruiting species Fragaria chiloensis (L.) Mill., the beach strawberry from Chile.  The word for strawberry in Japanese is ichigo.

Descriptively the strawberry is not a berry at all, but an aggregated accessory fruit which consists of many small glabrous achenes embedded within the fleshy surface of the enlarged conical, fleshy red receptacle.  An achene is a indehiscent dry fruit developed from a single ovule. Yeah the real annoying bits that get stuck between your teeth! [2]

In Europe the origin of the cultivated strawberry dates back to the 1750s where it was first bred in Brittany, France.  In Japan the strawberry was introduced by the Dutch into Nagasaki (the only Japanese sea port allowed to trade with the Netherlands) during in the Edo Period (1603-1867) and small amounts of cultivation began in the Taisho Period (1912-1926).  Japanese strawberry cultivation really took off during the decade 1945-1955 as research and development created new varieties along with the ability to extend the harvesting period. [3-4]

Strawberries grown off the ground to protect from damp and mould
Strawberries grown off the ground to protect from damp and mould

The strawberry plant itself is stoloniferous perennial herb that grows in fertile, slightly acidic, well drained , moisture retentive soil.  In traditional commercial cultivation its roots are grown under black polythene covered with straw (plasticulture) but there has been a shift to growing strawberries inside polytunnels or greenhouses at waist or head high troughs making the hanging fruit easily to pick.  By growing off the ground the plants are undamaged by slugs and snails and less prone to mildews as air can circulate freely around the fruit. [5]

The Japanese strawberry season occurs May-June for outside crops and December to April for greenhouse crops.  Six months of yumminess! [6]

Map of japan
Regions and Prefectures of Japan

The Nyoho cultivar was introduced in 1985 and Tochigi Prefecture (9) became the largest strawberry growing region becoming known as the ‘Strawberry Kingdom’.  Today Tochigi Prefecture (9) still produces the largest crop of strawberries, followed by Fukuoka (40) and Kumamoto (42) Prefectures (numbers after the Prefecture refers to Map of Japan opposite). [7,8]

Each strawberry growing Prefecture is known for a particular cultivar of strawberry:  ‘Tochiotome’ (the successor to Nyoho cultivar) in Tochigi, ‘Amaou ‘ in Fukuoka and ‘Hinoshizuku’ in Kumamoto.  Unlike English cultivars the Japanese varieties are sweeter, larger and more tender on consumption. [7]

A fresh skyberry
A fresh skyberry

A new extra large strawberry cultivar, the Skyberry was introduced in 2011.  Two-thirds of its strawberries weigh over 25 grams – that’s the same weight as a typical bag of crisps! Each berry costs about 500 Yen (£4) each.  The Hatsukoi no Kaori aka ‘the Scent of First Love’ is an unusual strawberry as it is white in colour on the outside and on the inside but it is not an albino. [4, 9, 10, 11]

The Japanese love to pick and eat strawberries fresh from the plant so visiting strawberry farms and paying to eat strawberries by the half hour (around £10, 1500 Yen) is quite a common and a fun activity.  They are taught how to pick the fruit at peak ripeness so no berry is wasted.  Just make sure you book a time slot during peak season as just showing up will probably result in you being turned away because of the crowds! [6, 12]

And how about my attempt at making my Japanese Christmas / Birthday cake? Not bad for a first try – beginners luck as usual!

About the author:

dark1Fi Young is an alumnus of the UoR MSc. Plant Diversity degree (2007-2009).  When Fi is not in poor mental health she is a Committee Member, Winnersh Parish Coordinator and tree hugger for the WDVTA, a Volunteer Mentor for the Johns Hopkins University Data Science Specialism: Capstone Project and a School Governor.  Fi continues her scientific projects online at


[1]      Puni Puni Japan LLC  (2012) Image of Christmas Cake @×1024.jpg

[2]     Image of accessory fruit @

[3] (2016) Japanese Strawberries to purchase online @

[4]     Japan National Tourism Organization (2016) Strawberries @

[5]     University of Florida (2016) Strawberry production around the World @

[6]     Japan Talk (2015) 16 Ways to enjoy Japanese Strawberries @

[7]     Japan Hot Now (2013) HowTo: Tips for enjoying Strawberry Picking! @

[8]     Wikipedia (2016) Prefectures of Japan (map) @

[9]     Japan Info (2015) 3 Yummiest Japanese Strawberry Types – From Albinos to Giants @

[10]    Shizuoka Gourmet (2016) Strawberries: Facts & Tips @

[11]    I’m Made of Sugar! (2015) I Tried “skyberry,” A kind of Strawberry @

[12]    Japan Info (2015) Strawberry picking in Japan: Fruit picking in Japan @

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