Japan produces some of the most attractive, unusual, and expensive fruits in the world. From square watermelons, white strawberries, to rich red mangoes, Japan’s quest to create the perfect versions of fruit has some produced some amazing results.
In order to create the perfect fruits, special growing circumstances are needed. Square watermelons, for instance, are grown in a wooden box and oriented so that the stripes are running perfectly vertical.
As you can imagine, when individual pieces of fruit are given personalised attention, they won’t be cheap to buy. While some of these fruits cost tens or even hundreds of dollars, from time to time a news report will surface of somebody paying the price of a car for a single melon!
These luxury fruits are considered status symbols, prized sometimes for their perfect taste, but also as a gift, a gesture, or for decoration. Let’s take a look at some of Japan’s most coveted fruits, and how they are produced.
White Jewel Strawberries
Price: ¥1080 each ($10USD)
The White Jewel (Shirou Houseki variety) of strawberry, are very large, very sweet strawberries that have a beautiful white colour. This colour is achieved by growing them in the dark, and in the absence of sunlight, the red pigment anthocyanin is not activated. The seeds however, remain red.
White Jewel strawberries are just one of many white strawberry varieties in Japan. In general, they have a lovely sweet taste, with a hint of pineapple.
Price: ¥8,500 ($79USD) for 6
What is a dekopon? A dekopon is a form of citrus fruit, a hybrid of a kiyomi (a seedless mandarin crossed with an orange) and a ponkan (Chinese honey orange). Dekopon are very sweet, and known for their characteristic bump on the top of each fruit. In overseas markets, they’re known as Sumo Oranges. While initially not well regarded for the ‘ugly’ bump on top, these custom-bred citrus fruits are now highly sought after.
Sekai Ichi Apples
Price: around ¥2200 ($21USD)
The name says it all – Sekai Ichi translates to ‘world number one’! These Japanese apples are one of the largest varieties in the world. They were originally bred as a cross between red delicious and golden delicious apples, and are juicy and sweet.
What makes them extra special? The apples are given personalised care, pollinated by hand with a special tool, checked for blemishes, and even washed with honey for extra sweetness!
Price: ¥21,500 (about $200USD)
Perhaps the most famous special Japanese fruit is the square (or cube) watermelon, first developed by graphic designer Tomoyuki Ono in 1978. His farm has a patent on the square watermelon, and is the only producer that can sell them.
The square watermelons are produced by placing them in a square wooden box when the fruits are small, and carefully aligned so the stripes are not skew. Strict quality control ensures only the perfect watermelons make the final cut.
When the fruit is ready for harvest, they are decorated with a ribbon, an official seal of authenticity, and shipped in a padded box. The taste of a square watermelon is not great, as they are not fully ripe, with an off-white colour. But these fruits are more for ornament than eating, and make great gifts.
Taiyo no Tamago (Miyazaki Mangoes)
Price: ¥540,000 ($5000USD)
Taiyo no Tamago mangoes (Egg of the Sun mangoes) are grown in Miyazaki prefecture in Japan’s southern island, Kyushu. They are large, with a rich red colour and beautiful sweet taste. Bought in a store, they usually cost a few hundred dollars, but sometimes a select few reach into the thousands to incentivise farmers at auctions.
Taiyo no Tamago are grown in optimal conditions to give them their physical characteristics. When the mango tree begins growing fruit, many of the young fruit are removed, so the plant focuses its resources on a select few. These mangoes are lifted up high in the greenhouse, suspended by a string to the ceiling and sitting comfortably on a little mesh hammock. This gives the mangoes maximum light to increase their sugar level, and give them their famous red colouring.
Ruby Roman Grapes
Price: 1.1 million Yen ($11,000, or $370 per grape)
Ruby Roman Grapes are relatively new on the scene, having been developed in 2008. There are strict standards to make the grade; each grape must weigh at least 20 grams, and have an 18 percent sugar content.
To be classified for the next level up, Premium Ruby Roman, the whole bunch must weigh a minimum of 700 grams. With such strict standards, Premium Ruby Rose grapes are incredibly rare, and some years there are no bunches that pass the specifications.
Yūbari King Melons
Price: 5 million Yen ($45,600)
One of the most expensive fruits in Japan is the Yūbari melon, originating from Yūbari, Hokkaidō. The melons are prized for their high sugar content and sweetness.
Why are they so expensive? The melons take about 100 days to grow, and are wiped clean every day. The melons are given special conical paper hats to protect them from the sun, which may spoil the fruit.
The inspection process is rigorous. Farmers flick and knock on the fruit to listen for a deep, low sound. The rind is checked for a perfect lattice pattern, and the fruits are checked for fragrance.
While most us will never get the chance to taste these incredible fruits, it’s fascinating to learn about the lengths that the farmers go to achieve the perfect fruit. Using paper hats, hammocks and frequent honey washes are equal parts genius and overkill.
This begs the question, why would people pay tens of thousands of yen for a piece of fruit, when cheaper options are available? In some cases, buyers that represent supermarkets, distributors or other large companies may place an outrageous bid on a Taiyo no Tamago mango merely as an incentive to encourage the farmers to continually strive for the finest fruit.
What fruits have I missed? Perhaps gokusen, the $6 banana with its own case? Or perhaps densuke, the $4500 watermelon with an almost black-green skin? Let me know in the comments!