The sea urchin Mesocentrotus nudus is commercially harvested between June and August in northeastern Japan. A previous study showed that feeding on Saccharina japonica between April and June resulted in gonad quantity and quality improvement in this species from a barren. No information is available on the optimal culture period for harvest before the fishing season. The purpose of this study was to determine whether gonad size and quality (color, texture, and taste) can be improved before the fishing season and to verify the possibility of an early harvest. The sea urchins M. nudus were collected from a barren and placed under two types of culture conditions: suspended cages in a bay and a laboratory circulation system. They were fed S. japonica between December and May or March. Gonad indices, hardness, and color [L*, a*, and b*, and ΔEab* (a unit of acceptable commercial color difference from a fishing ground for each treatment)], and free amino acid (FAA) contents of the urchin gonads at the start of rearing experiments and at the end of cage (C) and laboratory feeding (LF) cultures were measured. These variables were also compared between LF and laboratory-starved urchins to confirm the dietary effect of this kelp. Gonad indices in treatments C and LF were significantly higher than those at the start of the experiment and those in laboratory starvation (P < 0.01), although there was no significant difference between C and LF. Gonads in treatment C were significantly softer than that at the start of the experiment (P < 0.0001). ΔEab* of gonads in treatment C was the lowest, indicating that the gonad color was close to the preferred color. There was no significant difference in the total FAA content between C and LF treatments, whereas, of the umami FAA, glutamic acid content was significantly higher in gonads from C than LF. Of the bittertasting FAA, tyrosine and valine contents were significantly higher in LF gonads than in C gonads. These results suggested that gonad size, hardness, and color of M. nudus were improved before the fishing season by initiating culture in December with S. japonica feeding.