I love fruit. It’s like nature’s candy, but generally better for you and without the unnecessary wrappers, or as I like to call them, “the third wheel.” Fruit is both a visually seductive and tastefully tantalizing food, which is why my fridge always has a constant supply of it. As much as I enjoy fruit, I can’t say I would be thrilled if someone gave it to me as a gift. Heck, I’d probably be a little miffed if someone did that. But such a custom is the norm in Japan, where fruit is meticulously cultivated then gifted. We’re not just talking your run of the mill Fuji Apple here either, this fruit is perfect.
Japan is home to the most expensive fruit shop in the world: Senbikiya. The store strives to grow and sell exquisite pieces of fruit that are much larger and more flavourful than that produced anywhere else. While taste is important, it is the visual appeal of the fruit that proves most crucial in its sale as a formidable gift. There are two gift-giving seasons in Japan that takes place in winter and summer, where the act of exchanging goods stems far beyond the Western birthday/Christmas/Valentine’s sham routine. The tradition represents a tangible appreciation for family members, bosses, colleagues, and many others, which is why a prized specimen of fruit could be an appropriate expression of your thanks.
Perfection doesn’t come cheap though. Think about it: if you wanted your face to look perfect, a bout of intense facials is going to cost you. It’s the same idea with fruit in Japan—it needs to look stunning in order to properly convey how important the person you’re gifting it to is. This is not to say that all fruit in the country is sold this way, or that the near perfect pieces from Senbikiya are not to be eaten. On the contrary, these delights are to be ingested to appreciate the elite level of flavour your taste buds may never be exposed to again.
Apples, for example, are grown to the size of a human head and go for 2,100 yen, or $25 each. For a perfectly round and evenly toned melon? That’s going to cost about 34,650 yen, or $419 a pop. Sure, giving fruit might be a lovely gesture in the form of a gift, but why pay that much money for it? Co-owner of Senbikiya, Ms. Ishikawa, partly attributes it to the mentality of “Japanese-made is better.” That in conjunction with the excessively labour intensive process involved in creating such pieces of perfection, as well as the attentive service provided by the store adds up to the final price tag. The heating bills for these greenhouses must be insane, using up to 55 litres of heating oil a day to assure an optimum temperature for the produce, and with a mere 3% of produce achieving the strict criteria farmers for Senbikiya demand of their fruit. This is not a business for people with shallow pockets.
The next time you enjoy the sweet juice of a honeydew melon, take a moment to consider that what you’re eating is actually considered a luxury item in some parts of the world, and not for its scarcity but for its beauty. Just make sure you don’t start giving vegetables as a gift, according to Senbikiya’s owners, because really, who likes eating vegetables?