Today I splurged, indulged in a pricey whim, treated myself to something normally outside my budget. What was it? The newly released Samsung Galaxy S4? A Chanel bag to better fit in with brand-conscious Tokyoites? The Mikimoto pearl necklace I’ve been coveting for years?
None of the above. I bought fruit.
Yes, fruit is a luxury good in Japan. Living in the world’s most expensive city has desensitizing me to most price tags, but when grapes are $15/bunch and ten strawberries cost $6, I still steer clear of the supermarket’s fruit aisle. In Tokyo, a bowl of fruit on the dining table is not a simple and edible centerpiece, but an ostentatious display of wealth.
Granted, Japanese fruit is perfect. Perfectly shaped, perfectly colored and packaged to preserve this perfection. Midsummer peaches are individually wrapped in plastic, cushioned in styrofoam, then sold a wooden and cardboard box. Even in the orchard, little sunshades are placed on buds before they blossom to make sure the fruit won’t scorch during the upcoming growing season.
Japan excels at making even the strangest things trendy (and expensive), and fruit is no exception. Gifting fruit has become a type of status symbol. Fruit baskets can cost upwards of $100. Products like a square watermelon or a designer cantaloupe are similarly priced. When a certain regional product becomes famous, the normally inflated prices skyrocket to near extortion. A pair of Yubari melons can cost thousands of dollars.