- Japan often treats fruit as luxury items given as gifts and melons are among the most expensive.
- Yubari King melons are the most famous, two of which set a record price in 2019 when they were auctioned for $45,000.
- Crown melons, grown in the Shizuoka prefecture, can cost around $200 each.
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Following is a transcript of the video.
Narrator: This melon cost $200. But that’s nothing compared to the price that some can reach. And in May 2019, two melons from Hokkaido sold at auction for 5 million yen. That’s just over $45,000.
So what is it that makes this fruit so expensive?
From the Yubari King to the Andes, the Higo green melon, and many more, melons are grown up and down Japan, and they’re serious business. The fruit isn’t traditionally something you’d pick up as a snack in Japan, but is a luxury that often plays a big part in Japan’s gift-giving culture.
And they’re not just admired for their taste, but for their looks as well. Crown melons are one of the most renowned varieties. Go into a high-end fruit store in Tokyo, and you’re likely to see their signature stickers.
The melons are only grown in Shizuoka prefecture, in central Japan, and can cost you over $200 each. Unlike the $5 mass-produced melons you’re likely to come across in a Western supermarket, crown melons take constant care and attention to grow. Fumiyoshi Chujyo’s family has been growing these melons for 60 years at his farm near Fukuroi.
The farmers give the melons constant attention and care. Each melon takes 100 days to grow, and the fruit is grown all year round. There are 20 slightly different varieties of crown melon seeds grown depending on the season. The raised beds allow the farmers to control the amount of water each plant gets exactly, and air conditioning and heating keep the temperatures constant year-round.
Crown melons have four grades: fuji, yama, shiro, and yuki. Any melons with even minor defects are marked as yuki, and the top three grades are marked on their sugar content and perfect appearance. 55% of the melons make shiro grade, the third grade, 25% are yama, and 0.1%, or one in 1,000 of all melons harvested, are graded as fuji, the highest grade possible. After around 50 days, the plants begin to flower, and baby fruits start to appear. But the hard work has only just begun.
This work is all done entirely by hand, and it isn’t just about getting the taste right, but perfecting the appearance too. As the fruits get larger on each plant, they are carefully wrapped in white paper to protect them. Once this net pattern has developed, each melon is even massaged and polished by hand. It is then covered to protect it from the sun for its final growing period.
The farmers can wear through multiple pairs of white gloves polishing these melons. But the work of the agricultural cooperatives also keeps their prices high. The Shizuoka Crown Melon company oversee the distribution and checks on melons from over 200 farmers.
They ensure that the quality remains high and that the prices aren’t undercut. The resulting taste is undeniably incredible. Each fruit has a complex balance of flavors and is perfectly juicy and sweet. But you’ll have to decide for yourself whether the high price is worth it for the taste.
Despite the cost, there’s a big market for these fruits across Japan. Consumers are willing to pay to ensure that their gift is perfect, especially knowing the work that has gone into producing them.
The melons are often sold in individual presentation boxes, sitting on silk or hay, or tied with a ribbon. And when choosing the perfect gift, the high price is often seen as a signifier of quality.
So what about those $45,000 melons?
At the start of the season, the perfect first fruits are auctioned off and are often sought after as a trophy for local businesses to bid on. A new record is set for the sale of these fruits almost every year, and it doesn’t look like their price is going down anytime soon.