I earn my crust by construing analysis articles on food industry matters, which means that I spend hours every week trawling though reams of industry news coverage. This might sound a tad dull, but I come across some baffling stuff.
I’ve long had my eye on Japan’s quirkiness with regards to fruit. Fruit to the Japanese is not just something you pick up from stall outside the train station and munch on your way home. Fruit in Japan is two things: flawless and expensive. Single apples sell for around US$5, and two dozen premium cherries can set you back by US$100. Japanese tourists often remark on how cheap the fruit is elsewhere in the world. And that it has brown spots.
Japan’s complex social conventions are underpinned by a highly ritualised gifting culture, which contributes just as much to the country’s vast consumer market as electrical gadgetry. Exorbitantly priced food items are high up on the list as desirable presents. Fruits’ perishability is no hindrance; if anything, it just adds to the allure.
Among the most prestigious of fruits are peaches. They dangle from their trees wrapped in individual paper bags, preventing any blemishes caused by, presumably, dust from butterflies’ wings.
It is melons, however, where Japanese fruit growers really surpass themselves. You’ve probably all seen those pictures of neatly stacked square watermelons, grown in transparent cubed containers. At US$125 a piece, at least your wallet won’t be weighing you down as you lug one of those beauties home. For a special occasion like Mother’s Day, practical and square becomes sentimental and heart-shaped. Topped, of course, with a pretty bow:
In May this year, I came across a news item reporting that a box set of two cantaloupe melons sold for… wait for it… US$12,500. That’s roughly the price of some top-notch breast implants. The fruits were described as “perfect spheres with a smooth, evenly patterned rind”. But the global recession hasn’t left Japan’s melon market entirely unscathed. In 2008, a pair of melons fetched just over US$30,000.
Update, 26 May 2013:
For US$50 a throw, one of these limited edition Hello Kitty melons could be yours:
There’s only 300 of them, so you better be quick.