Discover the gorgeous, shockingly expensive world of luxury Japanese fruits.
Earlier this year, Sapporo City hosted a spring auction where a pair of Yubari melons was sold for a whopping ¥3.2 million (about $37,875 CAD), the highest bid on record. Grown in the nearby town of Yubari, the melon is cousin to our familiar cantaloupe, but you won’t find the Yubari chilling uneaten in the corner of a container of fruit salad at your neighbourhood BBQ. These gourmet melons were carefully cultivated to exacting perfection. While they may have been the season’s elite, it’s not uncommon for Westerners to get a bit of sticker shock for even the typical fruit you find at a Japanese grocery store. A non-auction Yubari could cost you more than $70, a single sekai ichi (“world’s best”) apple will run you $20, with even regular apples costing around $3 a piece. And you may have already seen the $200 square watermelon (which—spoiler alert—is grown in a sturdy square box).
As a rule, Japanese fruit is less of a daily staple and more of a luxury item. Part of this has to do with resource scarcity. Only 12% of Japanese land is usable for agriculture, so most orchards are small operations that focus on cultivating higher-quality fruit at lower volumes. Think of it as boutique farming. Yubari melons, for example, are hand-pollinated, meticulously pruned so all the plant’s nutrition goes to a single fruit, and the melons are topped with a little sun hat to ensure even and pleasing colour.
Geography isn’t the only factor influencing this fancy industry. Fruit plays important social and spiritual functions, especially when it comes to gift-giving practices and Buddhist ritual offerings. These gorgeous fruits are often given at special occasions, like weddings and business meetings. A high-end fruit is a prestigious gift that conveys respect and helps to cultivate good relationships. Fruit is also a common part of Buddhist devotions: it’s often placed on altars as an offering to deities and ancestors. Fruit can symbolize enlightenment, or the successful fruition of one’s efforts.
The best time to enjoy a beautiful fruit is when it’s in season. September is a great time to try out the Fuji apple or nashi, a dimpled Japanese pear that’s golden and perfectly round. Another good bet is the “king of grapes,” the Kyoho, a giant, deep purple variety with a thick skin. Produced in Yamanashi Prefecture—also known for its wine—the Kyoho can be eaten skin-on or peeled for maximum sweetness. Enjoy it alone, or as a topping for a parfait or fluffy cake. The vine’s the limit.
Enjoy the fruits of their labour
Looking to dip your tongue into the high-end fruit world? Not to worry, we have a simple, three-step guide for you to follow. Read on and eat up!
DO NOT eat unaccompanied fruit
If you see one on an altar insomeone’s house, hands off ! That’s a Buddhist offering to their ancestors.
DO give a fruity gift
If you’ve stayed with a friend or colleague, consider gifting them one of these beautiful sweet treats as a thank-you.
DO NOT break the bank
On a budget? Try Kit Kat’s limited-edition Kyoho Grape flavour, or the local konbini brand of Kyoho Grape popsicle!
Illustration by Chieko Watanabe