A few years back, there was a report that wealthy people in Russia were paying over $800 for Japanese square watermelons. In Russia, that’s supposedly 300 times the price of a regular watermelon. But why square Japanese watermelons? That’s so passé!
Watermelon is a popular summer fruit in Japan. People give watermelons as gifts and play “suikawari” (スイカ割り), which is like piñata, but with a watermelon.
Depending on the size, a whole watermelon costs around ten bucks in Japan. Then, there are the luxury watermelons, which most people typically don’t buy or eat.
This is where watermelons get interesting, odd, and effing expensive.
Many of these watermelons took years of practice to get their shape right. They are grown in special containers or molds. The heart-shape watermelon (see below), for example, took three years to get just right. Farmers fuss over these melons, which are usually grown in very small batches.
Be aware that prices vary depending on the fruit vendor.
The iconic square watermelon is not a regular sight at most Japanese supermarkets. I’ve lived here 17 years, and I’ve seen only a couple over the years. The novelty melon is usually priced in the neighborhood of $100 each, but they can approach $200.
This is a “Godzilla Egg” watermelon. It’s... very large and comes in a neat crate. I did see one of these once—maybe about ten years ago. The shape isn’t that special. Prices vary between $68 and $150.
The heart-shaped watermelon first started getting attention in 2009. There are now mini versions, too, which are priced at around $200. Large heart-shaped watermelons can be yours for around $350 or higher.
As far as shapes go, this might be closest to the traditional round watermelons you find in Japan. It’s called a “dynamite watermelon” and is packaged to look like a bomb. Its slogan is “An explosion of delicious taste!” It’s priced at around $70 or so, making it one of the more inexpensive watermelons.
This is a pyramid watermelon that’s shaped like, wait for it, a pyramid. They’ve been around for a while (since 2004 or so), and start at around $500.
This one costs nearly $1,000!
Here is a watermelon that was grown to look like a calabash, which is an unusually shaped fruit.
Next to the square melon, you are looking at a “jinmen suika” (人面スイカ), which literally means a “human face watermelon.”
The Japanese media discovered this watermelon in 2011, and it’s priced at around $500 and up, with some of the larger melons costing over a thousand bucks! The watermelon is grown using special-shaped clips that leave imprints and create a human-like face. The price isn’t the only scary thing about this melon.
These melons are good examples of how preoccupied Japanese can be with not only food presentation, but imbuing that presentation with a sense of playfulness.
This article was originally published on July 18, 2013. It has since been updated.