When fruits are sold like Art.
You’ve seen it on the news: fancy fruit going for double your rent in special boxes that sometimes look nicer than a funeral casket.
But why? How come?
It’s a long history.
Culture of Gifts
People don’t eat $100 melons just for kicks (well, maybe some). Typically, these fruits are usually given as gifts to others. According to DiGJapan, “Gift giving goes a long way back in Japan’s history and is a very important aspect of the culture. Another reason someone might buy these kinds of fruits is to bring something nice to a party or gathering (like someone would bring an expensive bottle of wine in the West).”
This culture of gift-giving grew from the feudal period of Japan during the Kamakura, Ashikaga, and Tokugawa eras of the 12th-19th centuries.
The island nation for the better half of this era was splintered off into different territories which were primarily governed by the shogunates — a military dictatorship ruled by family clans. (Think Japanese Game of Thrones). The role of the emperor did exist but he was really seen as more of a figurehead than a ruler.
During such a time where gaining the favor of powerful people was essential to peace, agreement, and even survival: the practice of giving fruits like clementines and melons became a gesture of good faith or allegiance, says Japan Truly. And you better get them the best that you could afford.
After modernization, this tradition of gift-giving continued and evolved into a practice that shows appreciation to people like your family or your colleagues. And of course: the more expensive, the more gratitude you have.
What makes them so expensive is not only the pristine appearance and heavenly flavor, but the strain and the region from which it came. When you walk into a luxury fruit parlor, expect to get the luxury experience with your attendant answering every question that you have about their selection.
For non-Japanese speakers, big cities like Tokyo would be your best bet to find service in your language. You’ll also have better luck finding parlors who employ bilingual speakers in high-end neighborhoods like Ginza or touristy areas like Shinjuku.
Now that we’ve gotten the history out of the way, what should you buy?
Expensive melons are probably one of the first things that come to mind when you think of those pricey fruits you see in news articles. While the square watermelon is an amazing feat, when we’re talking melons we’re talking about muskmelons.
And when talking about expensive muskmelons, we’re talking Yuubari King.
They’re grown on the north island of Hokkaido in a small city called Yuubari just outside of the capital city of Sapporo. This article by Mashed states that it is a hybrid of two strains of cantaloupe that are hand-picked by farmers from the seed. After that, they are grown in extremely fertile soil and cared for in order to be without any blemish.
According to Sticky Mango Rice, the priciest piece of Yuubari King ever was a pair of them selling for 5 million yen in 2019. That’s about $45,000!
If you want to get your hands on one of these bad boys, expect to spend around $200 for an average one at the parlor. If you’re one of those big spenders, you’ll have to compete against others at a fruit auction.
The best time to buy melons would be late summer to early fall, but thanks to greenhouse technology you can probably buy them year round!
Japan loves strawberries; so much so that the priciest ones look like jewels and taste of ambrosia! When buying a luxury berry, expect that it was grown in a careful and slow process in order to increase the sugar content while keeping the acidity as low as possible. As a result, the flavor is as beautiful as the shiny skin that comes in deep red, pink, and even white!
While there are plenty of excellent strawberry producers, those within the Tochigi prefecture made a name for themselves as the “Strawberry Kingdom” said the official Tochigi page. Tochigi, an area 90 minutes outside of Tokyo, gives pleasure to natives and tourists with opportunities like educational tours, berry picking, and even jam making classes! Just make sure to go during the first half of the year until around May.
(The title of the most expensive strawberry, however, was given to Okuda farm in the Gifu prefecture who sold at a record of $500 per strawberry!)
If you go to a fruit parlor or the basement of a luxury department store, one berry will cost you around $10 each. Like melons, strawberries can be available all year round but the best season to buy is in the springtime.
Can’t afford a trip to Japan? Pair your domestic strawberries with a drizzle of sweetened condensed milk for a Japanese twist!
Japanese budo grapes (葡萄) are out of this world. If you’ve ever tried some specialty Italian grapes, you know what I’m talking about as the budo in Japan are a strain similar to those found in central to southern Italy.
The thick, tart skin of this giant mountain grape perfectly complements the sweet jelly inside that really refreshes your palate. There are two ways to eat: sucking out just the insides or just eating it whole. With the skin, you will get a nice balance of acidity and sweetness and more of the nutrients.
Like the rest of the fruits on the list, these grapes are grown slowly and carefully. The producer takes care not to grow too many in one bunch in order to maximize the flavor in each grape.
You can find Kyohou budo, the dark Concord varietal, at the grocery store at a relatively reasonable price per bunch when they’re in season with the price hitting its highest during its premiere in mid-June, says Arigato Japan. Luckily, they stated that the price diminishes as the months go on and will reach its cheapest offer in September!
If you’re looking for the luxury option, the Ruby Roman varietal is known to be one of the most expensive in the world. In fact, Business Insider reported that bunches can easily go over $1,000 as in 2020 one bunch of these beauties sold for $12,000!
If you’re someone who wants to go lush but not broke, the lower end of these Ruby Roman Grapes can be found for maybe $100 per bunch later in the season. The price goes up depending on the unblemished skin, uniformity of each bunch, size, and of course — taste.
You really can’t get another grape like this anywhere in the world, so make sure to go to Japan during the summer at least once!
There are plenty more fruits that can cost more than a pretty penny, so if you’re a fan of luxury sweets: plan your trip during your favorite fruit season! It can be a healthy way to treat yourself and to learn more about the art of agriculture in Japan. Just make sure to buy from a reputable retailer to ensure quality!
Pickles are an excellent way to include vegetables into your diet without being boring or bland. Fortunately, Japanese cuisine has multiple types of “pickles” that don’t necessarily require months of preparation — one can even be ready in a few hours! Check back July 17th at 12pm EST to learn about Japanese pickling and how you can spice up your garnishes and aperitifs. In the meantime, follow us on Facebook and Instagram for more fun facts, photos, and tidbits!