• Food

A Look Into Japan's Luxury Fruit Obsession, Where Melons Sell For Thousands

Japan has garnered a reputation around the globe for having uniquely wonderful values and traditions that are not present elsewhere. The country was largely isolated from the Western world for centuries, yet as it has become a world power-player in commerce and culture, it's attracted attention from outsiders who are attracted to everything Japan has to offer from adorable anime to artful sushi

One of the most eccentric things at which many foreigners have marveled and now embrace are Japanese luxury fruits. This colorful and distinctively shaped produce is the most expensive fruit in the world, and regularly sell for prices that are three times what someone in the United States would expect to pay. Specially developed over time, the luxurious, high quality fruits of Japan can reach astronomical prices, with some even selling for tens of thousands of dollars at auction.

While it may be difficult to understand exactly why fruit is so expensive in this country, you might understand after seeing how much hard work goes into producing them and the importance they have in Japanese society.

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  • Fruit Is Regarded As A Luxury Item

    Photo: randylane / flickr / CC-BY-NC 2.0

    Unlike vegetables, which are used in a huge number of Japanese dishes, fruit has always been considered something of a luxury item within the nation. The fact it is not a common food item means that it has developed a certain quality of reverence that keeps it relatively expensive. "When it comes to fruit it is still a luxurious item, not like vegetables," said fruit business owner Hiroko Ishikawa in an interview with the BBC.

    "Vegetables you need for daily life but you can live without eating fruit. So if you are to buy something you might as well buy something that looks good. You don't want scarred or deformed because you are paying for the fruit. It just looks better."

  • A Desire For Japanese-Made Goods Increases Prices

    Photo: Hikosaemon / flickr / CC-BY 2.0

    It is common in the Asian country for residents to have a strong desire to only want to consume goods manufactured or grown in Japan. This distaste for importing fruit from other regions means that prices for domestically grown fruit has risen dramatically. "It's the mind of Japanese," explained Hiroko Ishikawa, who is a fruit distributor in Japan. "Japanese-made is better." Even regular items such as apples or grapes can cost significantly more than they would in Europe or the United States.

  • The Appearance Of Luxury Fruit Is Hugely Important

    The highly sought-after aesthetic of unusual fruit ensures that it has become desirable for farmers to strive for even more unique looks and bigger sizes. Since the food is seen as a luxury item, it's elevated the status of agriculture in Japan and has turned fruit-farming into a niche, high-end craft. As fruit is commonly gifted for important occasions, it is important that the yields have a pleasing appearance. This has prompted farmers to go to extreme lengths to ensure that the fruit looks good on the shelf. Beyond the square watermelon, Japanese luxury fruit farmers have developed the enormously luscious "ruby grapes," giant apples, and perfectly spherical melons. Stores will generally only carry very uniform-looking fruit; any odd-looking, misshapen items or fruit with marks or bruises is destroyed.

  • A Huge Amount Of Effort Goes Into Growing The Fruit

    Video: YouTube

    Unlike in other parts of the world where farmers tend to focus on quantity more than quality, Japanese fruit farmers will labor to ensure that they get the most luxurious produce possible. For this process to work effectively, the growers have to limit how much fruit they can create. This gives them the time to produce things like high quality melons.

    The fruit will often be grown in special greenhouses that keeps the seeds at a constant temperature and humidity for best results. The fruit will then grow uniformly, with any ones that show even minor deformities plucked. Workers are kept on constant call to adjust heaters and to provide extra water or fertilizer at any time of the day or night depending on the weather.

    CNN interviewed a strawberry farmer in Japan named Okuda Nichio, who has spent years attempting to perfect his tennis-ball sized, "scoop-shaped" strawberries, known as "beautiful princess" berries. Nichio admitted,

    "It's hard getting the shape of these strawberries right — they can sometimes turn out like globes. It's taken me 15 years to reach this level of perfection."