Fruit culture in Japan 果物
A famous luxury fruit: the square watermelon
A luxury cantaloupe melon box set
The dekopon, a type of Japanese orange
The best gift in Japan is... a melon?
In Japan, fruit has a special place at the market and in society. Unlike in the West, where fruit is often considered a simple gift, in Japan that it can be one of the finest gifts ever! Some watermelons can cost tens of thousands of yen... Read on to discover the unique culture that Japan has built around its fruit.
Fruit: a luxury food item in Japan
In Japan, it's possible to find the most perfect fruit: a perfect color, completely unblemished, shiny and sweet, many Japanese fruits are also handpicked. These are luxury fruits, and there's a huge market for them in Japan. How this came to be isn't clear, but it is certain that the recipient of a luxury fruit is being honored, perhaps in a similar way to someone honoring a deity by making an offering of fine fruits.
Among the most luxurious fruits in Japan, the most famous might be the cube-shaped watermelon (called "square watermelon") as well as the black skinned densuke watermelon and the yubari cantaloupe melon grown in Hokkaido - these fruits can cost up to several thousand dollars each! There is also the "Egg of the Sun" mango, which is particularly big, yellow and sweet, the "dekopon" orange which has an lump on the top resembling a small crown, and a special variety of large grape, the "Ruby Roman", which is cultivated only in Japan.
To read : Yubari, the abandoned town
Each luxury fruit is grown in a particular region and the variety is treated as a unique product, only considered 'authentic' when grown there. For example, cantaloupe melon farmers in Shizuoka prefecture go so far as to issue a certificate of authenticity for their fruit, that also recommends the consumption period to ensure an optimal fruit experience.
Fruits only produced in Japan
Apart from luxury fruit, it is of course possible to buy regular fruit at reasonable prices in Japanese supermarkets. They will, of course, be much less rare and exclaimed over than the fruits mentioned above. But Japan, like many other countries, has its own special varieties of fruit. With its unique climate from north to south and the special care that has always been taken with fruit growing (an art that has led to the existence of these luxury fruits), the country boasts many succulent fruits.
To the north, one of the most famous fruits is the Aomori apple, reputed to be the best in the world. In the same fruit family, there is also the Fuji apple, which is exported internationally, the nashi pear, a well-known Japanese fruit, and also the kaki, or persimmon. The Japanese persimmon is a very popular fruit eaten both fresh and dried.
Spring fruits such as peaches, cherries, strawberries and apricots are enjoying their moment of glory not only in the supermarkets but also in Japanese sweets. Some species of these fruits only exist in Japan, like the big white hakuto and shimizu peaches, the unusual white strawberries or the satonishiki cherries cultivated in Yamagata prefecture.
In southern Japan, many citrus fruits are grown. One of the best-known Japanese citrus varieties are mikan mandarin oranges. The islands of Kyushu and Shikoku are home to many unique Japanese citrus varieties such as kabosu, the famous yuzu or the kumquat, which everyone knows.
Japanese sweets made with fruit
There are a few ways to get hold of some typical Japanese fruit. In any supermarket, you will of course find local seasonal fruits next to the imported fruits. But to buy luxury fruits, the best way is to go to specialty stores like Tokyo Sembikiya or Shinjuku Takano, which has an entire wing dedicated to cantaloupe melons! Here, you can admire the most perfect melons in the world (and buy them of course) and splurge on cakes and pastries made with fresh melon.
Sweets made with fresh fruit have become increasingly popular in recent years. One of the best-known wagashi sweets is the ichigo daifuku, where a whole strawberry is placed in the middle of a traditional daifuku. Strawberries have a romantic connotation in Japan, which makes the ichigo daifuku a particularly suitable for a gift for a lover. Of course other daifuku recipes are always developing, and you'll find ones with small whole mandarin oranges inside, for example! There is no shortage of ideas for ways to use these wonderful fruits, that are so appreciated by the Japanese.
Read more: Wagashi, traditional Japanese sweets