Matsumoto does not have four seasons. Here in the lofty plains of Shinshu, there are about a dozen sweet, juicy, overlapping seasons. The calendar says it’s Fall, but according to the people who work the farms and fields we are, right now, smack in the middle of apple season.
It’s a long season too, with certain varieties ripening while the rice fields are only beginning to turn from green to gold. This past August I was cycling through Yamagata-mura, a sloping village beneath the mountain west and a little south of town, when I came upon a woman in an orchard picking apples.
I watched from the edge of the road as she filled the basket hanging from her shoulder. When she began placing them one by one in a yellow plastic crate, the kind synonymous with farming in Japan, I called over to her.
“What kind of apples are these?” I asked. “They look delicious!” I wasn’t just being polite. They really did look fantastic. And I while did want to know what kind they were, I was more interested in finding out how they tasted.
The woman walked over to me like I was an old friend. “Shinano Do-ru-cheh,” she said. “Oishii yo!”
“Oishisou ne!” I answered. And with that she reached over, plucked an apple, and handed it to me.
Japanese people are cool like that.
Apples All Over
Nagano ranks second in apple production in Japan behind Aomori, way up at the north end of Honshu. But that’s just a numbers game. Nagano’s apples are as good as you’ll find anywhere – and some will say they’re the best. Starting in August with the Shinano Dolce, one of several apple varieties originating right here in Nagano, different kinds of apples ripen at different times, meaning apple season runs right through November. This in turn means fresh apples for months.
You’ll find apple orchards all over Matsumoto, but a few areas in particular grow a healthy amount of them: the Okada area, directly north of downtown; Yamabe to the east; and Yamagata-mura to the southwest. And while you can duck into any supermarket and grab a few to try, it’s worth the effort to head directly to the source.
Check out an apple farm, firsthand and up close. Find a farm with an apple stand – they’re usually unmanned – drop a few coins in the box and grab some just-picked fruit. In Yamabe you can stop by the farmer’s market adjacent to the Yamabe Winery for a selection of Matsumoto’s finest.
Getting out to the apple orchards around Matsumoto is, unfortunately, no ten-second feat. You’ll want to rent a bicycle – look for the yellow Hello Cycle rentals in front of the station and in various places around downtown – and point your front wheel toward the outskirts of town. Or you can make it easy on yourself – and enjoy an even more personal experience – by going on an apple-picking excursion. Here in Matsumoto you can grab a guide through Welcome Matsumoto. If you are up around Nagano City you can give Snow Monkey a ring.
It’s mid-November now, and apple season will soon be coming to a close. But that’s okay. It looks like persimmon season is just about here!