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.
Prime Fruit In Japan Can Sell For Tens Of Thousands Of Dollars
The demand for unique and luxury fruit in Japan has sent the industry into a craft niche, and the items sold in Japanese fruit parlors and high-end stores is significantly more expensive that those found in normal grocery shops.
However, even these are at the low end of the scale compared to the truly pricey fruit that can only be bought at special auctions. These events will have the very best produce – those fruit that have been deemed the most attractive and are part of the first-harvest, making them even more desirable. One melon managed to attract a world record price of 3 million yen ($27,000) when it went to auction.
Fruit Parlors Are More Like Art Galleries Than Stores
There are several exclusive fruit parlors that can be found in Japan, especially in its capital city Tokyo. These are not just normal vendors that sell produce but are more akin to high-end luxury jewelers or even art galleries. Out of all of these types of stores, Sembikiya is most notable and perhaps the most expensive. The fruit is displayed in special glass casings, soft music plays in the background, and the floors and walls are covered in fine wood and marble. Shopping here for a gift is viewed by the family owners as an experience in of itself, with each of the elements playing an important role.
Fruit Is Major Part Of Gift GivingPhoto: Bobak Ha'Eri / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY 3.0
Like many other cultures around the world, Japan has a strong tradition of gift giving. Known as zōtō in the country, it revolves around giving presents to people or even organizations as a way of showing appreciation. In addition to a heavy roster of national holidays, people in Japan also exchange gifts at particular times that are set aside as festivals to say thanks. Giving fruit is also used as an honorary gesture at temples or in religious rituals. Fruit has become a popular gift for two reasons. It is something that will be used up quickly rather than taking up valuable space, and it is a healthy alternative to other food and drink items. Both are important qualities in Japanese culture, and are reflected in the country's gift-giving values as well.
Creating New Fruits As Novelty Items Is A Niche Career PathVideo: YouTube
The fascination that some sections of Japanese society have with fruit has inspired farmers to create innovative designs. One of the most famous is the square watermelon. While it was originally grown to be a space-saving measure, as it would fit more easily into refrigerators, it has since become a popular novelty item. The extra care that goes into getting these square melons to the market means that they are up to three times as expensive as normal watermelons. This has made it a popular status symbol among those with extra income or who want to appear fashionable.
Fruit Is Regarded As A Luxury ItemPhoto: 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
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.