When it comes to expensive and exclusive Japanese fruit, the Yūbari melon is the king. Grown in the small city of Yūbari in Hokkaidō, these extraordinary fruits have sold for as much as ¥5 million ($46,000USD) for a pair. But why exactly are these melons so special?
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How are Yubari King Melons grown?
The Yūbari King is a rock melon (or cantaloupe), a hybrid of Earl’s Favourite and Burpee’s Spicy varieties. Yūbari is ideal for melon growing due to its mountainous environment, with nutrient rich volcanic soil and high rainfall.
The melons are grown to specific criteria, ensuring a high sweetness level, perfect round form, good rind patterning, and a decorative stem. Each melon takes 100 days to grow, and are given special paper hats to protect them from the sun. When they’re ready for harvest, 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 their distinctive fragrance.
Why are Yubari King Melons so expensive?
Yūbari King melons are protected by geographical indication (just like Kobe beef), making them an exclusive product. Normally, a premium Yūbari King Melon will sell for around $200USD in a shop, around the same price as a square watermelon. But there are rare exceptions, which have shot this fruit into fame for their exhorbitant prices. But why do these particular melons fetch such high prices?
The $45,000 melon isn’t actually any different from a $200 melon. A melon such as this is simply sold as an incentive to the farmers, to stimulate the industry. They are also attention grabbing status symbols for the buyers, who can brag and promote their purchases. In this case, the highest bidder was Pokka Sapporo Food & Beverage Ltd., who used the media attention to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the release of their melon flavoured soda water.
Yūbari is a small city of less than 10,000 people, located in Hokkaidō. The city’s main industry was coal mining, but when the mine closed in 1990, the population crashed, and houses were abandoned and fell into disrepair. The city needed to find new ways to adapt. The city began to run the Yūbari International Fantastic Film Festival to attract visitors, including some very famous names (Quentin Tarantino, who wrote part of Kill Bill here, named one of his characters Gogo Yūbari after the city). The city also started making a name for itself with its prized melons.
Yūbari city’s mascot is a melon crossed with a bear, a slightly terrifying creature known as Melon Kuma. Melon Kuma is a fierce, roaring bear wearing a melon as a kind of helmet. Indeed, the melon icon can be seen all around the city, on tourist items, t-shirts and trinkets.
In Yūbari City, an all-you-can-eat restaurant called Melon Terrace opened in 2014. The entrance to the restaurant is through Melon Kuma’s roaring mouth. The restaurant serves a buffet of meals, including curry soba, a speciality of the region. And of course, there is plenty of sliced melon to eat as well. But be quick – diners have 60 minutes to enjoy the buffet, only served four times a day!
Yūbari King Melons in video games
In some Nintendo games, the melon is assigned the status of the ‘best of all the fruits’, just like the Yūbari King. In Yoshi’s Story, eating only melons gives the player the highest score. In Donkey Kong Barrel Blast, the tasty melon gives the player invincibility. While the word Yūbari is not mentioned, the ‘perfect’ melon shape is very similar.
Japan produces some of the most expensive and interesting specialty fruit in the world. From square watermelons, to mangoes grown in hammocks, to size-selected grapes, read about the world of Japanese fruit here!