Is it a tomato? Is it an orange? Is it an apple? What are those round orange fruits that are blooming all over Japan in autumn, foreigners ask. The Japanese do love their fruit and persimmons were originally cultivated in China, then brought to Japan, and are known as kaki. Today people around the world do not call them persimmons though, they are referred by their Japanese name, “kaki” (of course, kaki is easier to pronounce). The persimmon is Japan’s delicious symbol of autumn and a great dessert to share with your friends. They are widely eaten all over Japan and have many ways honoring them.
Photo: Shenghung Lin on Flickr
Kaki are not just a fruit but also a ceremonial symbol in Japan marking the coming of a new autumn season. The persimmons are planted in summer, then bloom in the autumn and winter seasons. They grow from trees that can reach as high as 5m and are picked when they turn bright orange. One way to tell it is autumn season here is if the kakis look ripe. They grow in large supplies in Japan making them really cheap. You can buy them from the store for as low as 100 JPY. It is very common to find them in Japanese homes and many grow their own trees. They peel the skin and then eat the crispy meat inside. Your Japanese friends may offer you a box full of kaki as an o-miyage, they stay fresh for a long time and are easy to pack.
There are many kinds of kaki and the most cultivated one in Japan is the diospyros kaki. This tree is common all over Japan and when harvested, the fruit is called the ‘Hatchiya’. The name of the kaki you have most likely eaten in Japan is Hatchiya, which is the most consumed.
Photo: Laura Bell on Flickr
Outside Japan, the Hatchiya is not well-known but different kinds of kaki are common. There are the date-plums, which are the more commonly known in Europe and Southwest Asia. America has it’s own kaki but always call it persimmons which are common in the eastern part of the United States and are often eaten as a pudding. India has recently cultivated persimmons and their popularity among people continues to grow.
The Japanese have different ways of eating it too. Apart from eating it whole, they taste great when pickled and brewed with sake. They can be hung to dry like raisins and then they become chewy turning them into hoshigaki.
Photo: Kuraken on Flickr
Photo: katsuuu 44 on Flickr
Kaki are seen mostly as a snack food in Japan but have superfood qualities too. They are rich in vitamins and minerals like carotene, potassium, and vitamin C. Some people believe they are great to eat before going out to drink to prevent hangovers. The stem was also said to have medicinal properties when mixed as a tea. It could treat hiccups, coughs and respiration, but this practice is not done anymore. So remember, this fruit looks good and is good for you.
Kaki are not only an edible delight, they have been beneficial to the Japanese for centuries. In ancient times, people would take unripened kaki, chop them, mash them, dilute them with water and paint them on paper to create a natural insect or moisture repellent to hang outside the home.
Call it kaki or persimmons, these fruits are definitely worth trying. They are not only a sweet fruit of Japan, they are a symbol, a decoration and a perfect gift. They are a favorite fruit for the Japanese and people are always proud to have some on the dinner table. Each prefecture in Japan is filled with persimmons this time of year so go out and try some yourself.