John Metcalfe is CityLab’s Bay Area bureau chief, based in Oakland. His coverage focuses on climate change and the science of cities.
Should you eat it, or put it in a museum?
Nestled on the bottom floors of a Tokyo shopping mall is a curious and fairly amazing shrine to fruit. Melons and Asian pears rest behind sliding glass doors, protected with the same amount of care as ancient relics; plump strawberries peep out from gift boxes like golfball-sized rubies.
This is the outpost of luxury-edibles vendor Sun Fruits, a Japanese firm devoted to curating the ultimate in fruit-based experiences. The company has been around in one form or another since 1925, although there was an "interruption" during the "chaotic period" of World War II, according to its website. I had wandered into its tony HQ during a recent trip, drawn by the visages of perfectly formed apples and cantaloupes – but really more by the price tags, which are utterly insane.
Take the above pair of melons: The one on the left goes for 10,500 yen, or roughly $100. The one on the right must be of finer quality, because its price is about $126. On its online marketplace, Sun Fruits lays out why you'd want to pay this much for one of the most basic ingredients in an American fruit salad: The melons are hand-pampered by a small agricultural producer to give them a "consistently high quality" and a "noble, elegant taste." Each has a profile as circular as a Euclidean proof, and they're so sensitive to their environment that Sun Fruits asks you to store them in a cool location away from sunlight, like fine wine.
The typical customer buys these extraordinary objects to give as gifts, as having nice fruit is a sign of high status in Japan. These melons would make shoddy presents, though, compared to some of the others that Japanese growers have coaxed into existence. This spring, a duo of Yubari King melons sold at auction for $15,730. And in 2008, a buyer shelled out $26,000 for a similar pair (making one wonder if they're always paired off to prevent getting lonely, they're that evolved of a fruit).
If you happen to chance upon this singular Tokyo establishment without $100 to blow, there are lower-cost options. Like this pomelo, which sells for $31:
There are also these strange albino strawberries, looking like they were exsanguinated by vampires. What's the financial burden of owning these berries, which Sun Fruits asserts is a new species called something that translates to "Fragrance of First Love"? That would be a mere $50: