Leaving the offices of the Tsukuba University Medical School, I crossed over the pedestrian bridge which takes you into the OIKOSHI cluster of dormitories at the southern end of the unusually long and narrow campus. With the morning air already sweltering, and my mind (and stomach) set on some ONIGIRI (rice balls) which I hoped to get at the convenience store just up ahead, my ears were grabbed by a muffled, yet distinct series of rapid-fire THUDS- thud..thud..thud..thud. When I stopped to search for the source of the sound, I looked to my left and saw a large tree. At that moment I was also just able to catch a glimpse of an excited looking group of birds descending greedily into its foliage. The ground beneath the tree was littered generously with what looked like large round rasberries, and the branches themselves were heavy-laden with these same fruit, which were in fact falling from the tree at a quick and steady pace ( the pecking of birds no doubt helped keep the fruit falling).
Too late in the season to be mulberries , I stepped onto the grass for an up-close look- YAMAMOMO – which anyone who has been to China (or a Chinese grocery store) might know of as YANG-MEI (楊梅). The Japanese reading of these characters is YO-BAI (which it is sometimes referred to as in written sources in Japan), but in this country these fruit are almost only referred to in conversation using the rustic moniker YAMAMOMO , which literally means mountain peach, or wild peach.
Luckilly, this particular tree was low enough for the fruit to be within easy grabbing reach (other trees in Tsukuba are often too high for casual foraging), I picked one, popped it into my mouth and savoured its soft texture and sweet-sour flavor. My fingers were stained dark red in the process, but that did not stop me from pulling off a few more to enjoy as I walked on.
Sometimes called Chinese bayberries in English (scientific name- myrica rubra), YAMAMOMO are native to Japan and China, and can be found growing in East and South-East Asia. The YAMAMOMO tree flower in April and bear their fruit, in clusters, in June. The berries do not keep very well, so if you do pick them you will want to eat them right away (and NOW is the absolute best time, and the harveting season lasts about 2 weeks). Japanese people also use the berries to make jam and YAMAMOMO flavored liquor.
In China YANG-MEI (yamamomo) are something of a major product, especially south of the Yangtze. They are harvested and processed as dried fruit (some flavored with licorice), canned fruit, and various types of liquor. Recently, Chinese companies have been making juice from YAMAMOMO and marketing it in the west as YUMBERRY JUICE. If you are interested, I have found a New York Times article about this beverage. Fortunately, those of us living in Tsukuba (and other parts of East Asia) can enjoy FRESH YAMAMOMO, and for free, at that.
Here is the NYT piece
YAMAMOMO contain plenty of important vitamins (vitamin c, carotene, riboflavin etc.) and minerals.
Remember, you have a bout a two week window of opportunity to pick these berries at their most delicious. After that its back to dried, canned and frozen! There are plenty of their trees around Tsukuba ( I have alreadt told you the general location of one)and in Tokyo as well (where they are a common roadside tree). Im not gonna give any more details on the trees whereabouts ! I dont want to spoil the joy of the search for you!