In Japan, fruit is on a whole other level. Japanese fruits are considered a special food, rather than an everyday snack. Japanese fruits grown with meticulous care and attention are given as luxurious gifts and sold at a premium. Think hundreds of dollars or thousands of dollars. The most expensive and exclusive fruit is the Yubari melon, which fetches a price of up to $45,000. There are fruit shops that are dedicated to selling these luxury fruits. These fruit shops also offer parfaits and cakes featuring these fine fruits for those of us who can only dream of tasting these premium fruits.
Even regular fruit prices tend to be higher at a Japanese grocery store than those at your local supermarket. Though fruit can be found for cheaper when it’s in season. This can be attributed to the fact that the Japan Agricultural Cooperative (JA) set regulations on size, color, and taste for fruit purchased from farmers for resale. Additionally, Japan’s terrain is largely mountainous, which doesn’t make the most hospitable land for fruit cultivation. Most fruit farms are small-scale or family-run operations that take deep pride in producing the best product despite how labor intensive the work is.
Japan does import fruit that cannot be grown in Japan like bananas, cherries, kiwis, and others. But among Japanese, there is a strong sense of pride in the quality of produce grown in Japan. Given that fruit isn’t typically seen as an everyday food, there is a much greater focus on seasonality and quality. Certain regions are famous for their produce.
For example, Fukuoka is a region in Japan famous for the amao strawberry. The amao strawberry is known for its perfectly balanced sweet and sour taste. The reverence for local produce goes so deep that it’s common to find snacks proudly declaring that their snacks are flavored with Hokkaido melon or amao strawberries. You’ll even find Japanese Kit Kats flavored with different regional strawberry varieties, such as the amao strawberry of Fukuoka and the tochiotome strawberry of Tochigi.
While Fukuoka and Tochigi reign supreme for their strawberry production, Aomori is famous for producing the best varieties of Japanese apple. Aomori is the country’s greatest producer of apples, accounting for more than half of the apples sold in Japan. Aomori’s reputation as an apple capital dates back as far as the Meiji Restoration of 1868. The Japanese apple played such a significant role in the economic resurgence of Aomori that in 1960 officials designated the oldest apple tree a natural monument.
Chiba and Ibaraki are two of the largest Japanese pear producers. Both regions are famous for growing Japanese pear or nashi, as they are called in Japan. Chiba prefecture is the largest producer of nashi. Kamagaya City, the third largest producer of nashi in the Chiba region, features a mascot which is an anthropomorphic nashi named Kamatan. Ibaraki is the second largest nashi producer in Japan. Ibaraki’s nashi growing roots go as far back as the Edo period, making it one of the oldest nashi-growing regions in Japan.
As you can see, Japanese fruit prices differ wildly from other countries because the culture around fruit consumption is different. In other countries, fruit is mass-produced in other countries and imported for domestic consumption year-round. While Japan certainly imports some of its fruit, the demand for fruit is not on the same level. Fruit is a luxury, served as a final course at expensive kaiseki, traditional Japanese multi-course meals, or even as impressive gifts. So many Japanese don’t bat an eyelash over expensive Japanese fruit prices, because they know the produce received is the result of careful cultivation.