What's round and cute and rosy?
Why, it's Biei's delicious tomatoes!
Tomatoes are packed full of good stuff! They're bursting with Vitamins A, C and E as well as being a good source of potassium, iron and calcium.
Plus, they're delicious! It's no wonder that they have worked their way into popular foods!
Tomatoes came over to Japan in the 17th Century with traders from Europe. At first, they were used as decoration due to their attractive red colour and they weren't consumed as food until the Meiji era (from around the end of the 19th century), when Western food became more prevalent.
Tomatoes have been grown in Biei since 1967, so they are a relatively recent crop compared to the likes of the town's more popular potatoes or wheat! However, their sweet flavour has quickly earned admiration in the world of tomato lovers.
Let's learn more about Biei's tomatoes!
1How are tomatoes grown?
As with most of Biei's crops, tomatoes are planted fresh each year. Seeds are planted in pots during the early spring, and it isn't long before they become saplings, ready for the earth. Tomato plants can grow extremely tall-- as tall as 2 metres! As such, when the tomato sapling is planted, they also need to be tied to poles to prevent them from falling over later in life.
Once that's done, the tomatoes are ready to begin growing!
But wait... this doesn't look like one of Biei's rolling hills?!
What are these strange, white domes?!
Here in Biei there is a sharp difference in temperature between day and night, especially during the spring and autumn. Most of the crops grown in Biei can withstand the difference. In fact, in the case of crops like asparagus or sugar beet, the difference in temperature can be helpful in boosting the crop's natural sweetness! However, tomatoes are delicate and do not grow well in cold temperatures.
To protect the tomatoes from Biei's temperature swings and to lengthen the harvest season, they are grown in greenhouses. Here, the temperature can be kept more constant and the tomatoes protected from sudden rain, snow or cold winds that might damage the crop.
A look inside a tomato greenhouse... rows and rows of tomatoes!
Warm and snug in the greenhouses, the tomatoes go from pretty yellow flowers to tiny, green fruit.
In time, these fruits start to turn from green to rosy red...
These yellow flowers swell to become the small, green fruit you can see on the plant!
2How are tomatoes harvested?
As they are delicate and easily bruised, tomatoes are usually harvested by hand instead of machines. Harvesting rows and rows of tall tomato plants alone would be very difficult for Biei's farmers, so they usually have lots of farmhands at the ready to pick the tomatoes more efficiently!
Human hands are the best tools for picking tomatoes!
By the way, do you know the right timing for picking tomatoes? If you have grown them at home, you probably just plucked them off when they were bright red and ready to eat, right?
Well, this is unfortunately not possible with tomatoes grown for wider consumption. You see, if they were picked when still red, they'd all go rotten by the time they reach their destination!
Tomatoes that are this red and ripe might not survive a long journey...
To prevent this, the tomato must be picked at exactly the right moment. Tomatoes continue to ripen even when off the vine, but if it's still too green, then it won't ripen in time. Too red, however, and it will go bad. This is why it's important to know which tomatoes are ready to be harvested, and when. It's a tough balancing act that relies heavily on the farmer's and helpers' experience, instincts and judgement!
Once the tomatoes are harvested, many are shipped off to supermarkets across Japan or food processing companies who will use them to make familiar staples like canned tomatoes, tomato ketchup and more.
A rainbow of tomatoes! Which ones do you think are ready to pick?
Try harvesting tomatoes for yourself!
Don't just take our word for it though... try harvesting tomatoes for yourself! Be My BIEI has teamed up with a local Biei tomato farmer to bring you a special tomato taste-testing experience. Taste up to 16 different varieties of tomato. Find your favourite, and take a punnet home as a souvenir! After harvesting, head up a secret hill and take a commemorative photo!
Colourful Tomato Tasting Experience
- Mid August～End of September
- Approx. 2 hours
- (2 people or more) Adults & Children: 3,500yen per person
※For solo participants, the price is 5,000yen
3Where can I enjoy Biei's tomatoes?
Biei has so many tomatoes to spare that you can enjoy them all over town during your time here! The tomato season is also very long, lasting from July to October, so you'll have plenty of time to enjoy this harvest!
Although you can enjoy Biei's tomatoes at most restauarants in town, the following restaurants often have special tomato-themed menus during the tomato season. Please do check them out!
The oldest coffee shop in Biei. 3rd generation owner Ms. Sasahara is such a big fan of Biei's tomatoes that she even made a T-Shirt to prove it! She personally goes to Biei's farms to purchase tomatoes. You can enjoy the taste of Biei's tomatoes, prepared with love.
- 1-5-35 Nakamachi, Biei, Kamikawa District, Hokkaido
- Mon ~ Wed, Sun - 11:00～18:00
Fri & Sat - 11:00～22:00
This cafe is located next to popular viewpoint Hokusei Hill and they use a lot of Biei's seasonal produce. One of the most popular dishes on the menu is the "Sun ripened minestrone" made with San Marzano (a type of tomato) from their own farm. Their 100% organic tomato juice is also a hit!
- Okubo-1 Kyousei, Biei, Kamikawa-gun, Hokkaido
- 11:00～15:00 (may close earlier if ingredients run out)
- Tuesday ~ Thursday
This popular Sichuan cuisine restaurant has recently appeared in the Michelin guide! We're so proud! One of the restaurant's most popular dishes is served during the tomato season... delicious spicy "tan-tan-men" noodles, served with a juicy whole tomato!
- Asahimachi 1-1-4, Biei-cho, Kamikawa-gun, Hokkaido
- Lunch 11:00 ~ 14:00
Dinner 18：00～20：30 (reservation only)
VILLA e PIZZERIA iL coVo
A delicious pizza restaurant located in Biei's hills, serving pizza made from fresh, seasonal ingredients. In 2021 the restaurant offered a limited menu of 'Pizza Estate', homemade sausages topped with summer vegetables and semi-dried Biei tomatoes.
- Omura-Murayama, Biei-cho, Kamikawa-gun, Hokkaido
- From 11:00 - Reservation required
- Infrequent - please check the calendar on their website (Japanese language)
Italian Cafe Abete
Tucked away behind Biei Station, Abete uses seasonal ingredients to create delicious pastas. We recommend their Napolitan pasta, with ketchup made from Biei tomatoes!
- Omachi 2-1-36, Biei-cho, Kamikawa-gun, Hokkaido
- Lunch 11:30～15:00
Finally, we'd also like to introduce you to one of our "Bieitiful"-branded goods... this delicious bottle of Biei tomato juice! Capturing the natural sweetness of Biei's tomatoes and their lovely red colour, this special juice is the perfect souvenir. We highly recommend picking it up during your visit!
What a gorgeous souvenir!
4Bonus! You can make a tomato out of cloth?!
Yes, it's true!
That piece of cloth can become a tomato?!
Earlier, we mentioned Kissa Suzuran, Biei's oldest coffee shop. The second generation owner, Ms. Yoshie Sasaki, is a big fan of Biei's tomatoes! In fact, she's such a big fan, that she has created a special "tenugui" featuring a Biei tomato motif! A tenugui is a type of traditional Japanese cloth that is handy for many things.
What's more, in just a few steps, this tenugui can be folded up into a cute Biei tomato!
How, you ask? Well, to find out, you'll have to take part in Ms. Sasaki's special "Tenugurumi" workshop at Suzuran...
Making Tenugurumi at Biei's oldest coffee shop
- Booking Period
- Year-Round (except Thursdays)
- Approx. 1 hr
What a wonderful souvenir to remember your time in Biei, the land of delicious tomatoes!