Japan is well known as a source of weird and quirky stuff, and its fruits are no exception. Despite its 4 seasons standard of the North Hemisphere of the world, there are still unique plants native to Japan. In addition, there are the fruits that everyone knows, but Japan has put their own twist on them in the way they’re grown or genetically modified. Many of you have probably already heard of square watermelons for instance, but there are many other strange and interesting Japanese fruits. Here are five of them!
In 2017, netizens were exposed to this purple-colored fruit that looks like a crossover between an eggplant, squash and a papaya. It all started with a video posted by GaijinPot, asking how the fruit is supposed to be eaten and even Japanese people themselves were not familiar with it.
This fruit was cultivated around 20 years ago in Yamagata Prefecture, Tohoku. Soft and spongy in texture, wild Akebi opens naturally when they are ripe, while cultivated Akebi doe not.
Underneath its purple skin lies the soft, white flesh with seeds which are bitter in taste. However, it is also said that there is a hint of sweetness in the slimy part of the flesh.
There are two known ways of eating this exotic fruit: the flesh and seeds can be slurped directly from the purple pod, or the pod itself can be stuffed, sautéed, or deep fried!
Where to find it: mainly in Yamagata Prefecture, Tohoku and only certain markets in Japan
When to find it: late summer to early fall
There are, in fact, many varieties of strawberries in Japan, as it is among the most favourite fruits. And then, there are also many varieties of white strawberry in Japan which are given names such as the “White Jewel,” “Fruit of Angel,” and many more. However, the prototype for all these are the “Scent of First Love” strawberries. The first of its kind in Japan, they were created by Miyoshi Agri-Tech Co., Ltd. located in Yamanashi Prefecture and were first sold in 2006.
These white strawberries are undeniably expensive as they can cost up to 1,000 yen per berry! According to Mr. Teshima Yasuhito who grows White Jewels in his farm in Karatsu, Saga Prefecture, by reducing the strawberries’ exposure to sunlight, he is able to reduce the level of anthocyanin which gives strawberries their signature red color upon ripening, hence turning them white. Taste-wise, they are said to be as sweet as their red counterparts.
Where to find it: department stores and white strawberry farms all over Japan
When to find it: all year round, especially during strawberry season (December to April)
— Andrea Clements (@andrea_clements) August 4, 2016
The square watermelons that you used to think were bizarre are not so unique anymore. The Japanese are getting even more creative by making watermelons that come in various other shapes – heart, pyramid, and even a human face! It wouldn’t be surprising if the next watermelon comes in the shape of Doraemon or a Shinkansen!
These unique watermelons cost from around 10,000 yen to 60,000 yen (or more) depending on the seller and the shape! The Japanese discovered the art of growing square watermelons by placing a tempered glass box around the fruits while they are still young, and other unique shapes are also grown in a similar manner.
Square watermelons are supposed to be convenient for storage. Contrary to popular belief, some of these unconventionally shaped watermelons can actually be eaten and are pretty sweet. However, due to their costly prices, they are mostly cultivated and sold as display ornaments which are meant to be decorated with flowers and plants.
Where to find it: department stores all over Japan
When to find it: all year round
— Fitfruit bedrijfsfruit (@FruitPlatform) January 20, 2014
Moving on from the weirdly shaped watermelons, we have a pentagon-shaped citrus fruit! Called “Gokaku no Iyokan,” which means “five-sided iyokan,” its pun-form can also mean “the sweet smell of success in exams.” (of course written with different characters, but the sound is similar).
Unlike square watermelons that are grown for easy storage, this type of iyokan is grown in such a shape to promote good luck for students taking an exam. This wouldn’t surprise those who know that KitKat is popular in Japan for a similar reason. The Japanized pronunciation ‘kito kato’ sounds like ‘kitto katsu’ meaning ‘you’ll surely win/pass’.
It is said that it took three years of trial and error to grow this fruit into its pentagonal shape. It is not clear who first started the trend, but the news of a polygon-shaped iyokan started circulating on the Internet and the news in 2004.
Where to find it: Ehime Prefecture and Ehime local specialty shops in Shinbashi, Tokyo
When to find it: no recent news about it (last heard of in 2015)
Ruby Roman grapes are the most expensive in the world at over $14,000 per bunch. pic.twitter.com/d9QASl0ZHJ
— SERIOUSLY STRANGE (@SeriousStrange) February 4, 2017
What makes this grape so unique is that it can grow to the size of a ping-pong ball. Not only that, but its perfectly round shape and wine red color earned it some attention and, not to mention, its staggering high price. It fetched a record of 1.1 million yen from an auction in 2016, earning it the title of the most expensive grapes in the world. The very bunch of grapes contained 26 grapes and weighed around 700 grams.
The first Ruby Roman grapes were put on sale in August 2008 and it was named as such via public voting. The grapes are described to be sweet, juicy, and low in acidity. There are a couple of criteria that must be fulfilled by the grapes in order to qualify as Ruby Roman, making this type very rare.
Where to find it: Ishikawa Prefecture and department stores like Isetan and Mitsukoshi
When to find it: from summer onwards
Most of these fruits are sky-high expensive and some of them are weird in taste. However, they are undeniably rare and are the efforts of dedicated, hardworking, and creative farmers. Have you tried any of these? Will you support the farmers by buying any of these fruits? Let us know!