Fruit can be very expensive, how can we keep it in our diets?
You’ve probably seen and heard many stories about how crazy expensive Japanese fruits are. You have most likely seen the square watermelons and the huge, genetically enhanced strawberries all priced at eye-watering astronomical prices.
Purchasing a piece of fruit in Japan can be something as simple as stopping by your local grocery store and picking out a suitable looking apple or it can set you back thousands of US dollars. Like all things Japanese, fruit culture in Japan is very prevalent and rich in detail and flavor. You can see plenty of examples of this if you visit the supermarket or specialty stores.
We all know that fruit is an excellent source of vitamins and fibers, and in a health-conscious society, more and more people are showing an interest in adding fruit to their diet to promote fitness and wellbeing.
In this article, we’ll cover lots of interesting ways that everyone from the richest salary man looking to impress his wife to the poorest millennial can find the best fruit for you.
Why Do Japanese Fruits Get so Expensive?
You’re on vacation in Tokyo and you’re looking for a gift but you have no idea what to get! You don’t want to get something cliche such as samurai novelties but you’d like to get something that captures modern Japan without words. However; all hope is not lost. Before you throw in the towel and purchase an ordinary gift for that special someone; consider buying them fruit. This may seem like an odd suggestion especially considering the fact that most fruit can be purchased in most places in the world.
Japan is famous for several of its novelty fruit creations such as the square watermelon or it’s excellent quality grapes, the size of a large gumball. Incredibly, you will notice that with these bunches of high-end grapes, each grape is exactly the same shape, size, and colour; a fine product and example of how the Japanese show meticulous attention to detail and perfection. You can expect to spend upwards of $100 on nicer quality fruit.
As much as it may seem like these prices are outrageous; things start to make sense more once you see the intense amount of time and effort put into cultivating these products. For instance, several locations around the Shinjuku ward of Tokyo feature strawberries which have been heavily vetted leaving only the most perfectly shaped and vibrantly colored pieces for customers to purchase. Not only that, Japanese people love producing uniquely colored fruit, such as pink or white strawberries and will give them a special name, again making that jump in price. in most cases, you aren’t paying so much for the taste of the fruit as you are for how much was put into making perfectly beautiful fruit.
Not only that, the attention and care that goes into the packaging, also contributes to how expensive fruit can be. As we know, Japanese people not only judge the flavor but the presentation of food. This can mean a wooden box, and bunches of ribbons to house a square watermelon, or indeed, individually wrapped fruit with a plastic foam net to protect the fruit from becoming damaged or bruised in transit.
If you have the time and money, I recommend stopping by Sembikiya, Japan’s famous fruit parlor. It has withstood time dating back to the Edo period in the 1800s, as an example to see how mercilessly expensive Japanese fruit can be.
Frozen Fruit and Other Alternatives:
Eating the fruit straight off the vine may not be your thing but fear not; Japan’s got you covered! Fortunately the Japanese love fruit inside of things, on top of things, inside two slices of bread with cream and so much more. A few options we’ve seen include kiwi cream sandwiches, strawberry and cream sandwiches, pickled fruit inside rice balls, and even luxury fruit themed jellies that contain whole fruits.
In Japan, almost every store (possibly excluding hardware stores) down to 7/11 carries some sort of frozen fruit usually with a variety of choices available for you to stick inside of your yogurt or just to enjoy as a summer treat. You could even add sugar to frozen fruit and make your own jam!
In addition to frozen fruit, you can also find canned peaches and oranges in stores. Though I wouldn’t personally call them fresh, they are preserved in a sweet, syrupy sauce ensuring that they keep for a long time. My mother often liked decanting a can of peaches and their syrup into a container and freezing them, making for a sweet and refreshing dessert in summertime weather.
Fruits are great natural sweeteners and Harajuku takes advantage of this by stuffing crepes full of sweet berries, apples, and oranges. Whether one can call this healthy when the crepes are also loaded with cream and sweet sauces, is up for debate, however, the fact remains that crepes are very cheap and that they also contain fresh fruit.
One of my favorite ways to obtain my fruit fix is to visit Honey’s Bar. Honey’s Bar specializes in making fruit smoothies and juices, and what makes them truly unique is their location. Honey’s bar will almost always be located in a train station, which makes it a great place to stop and buy a cup of their fresh blends as you commute to work or school for a revitalizing hit of vitamins and energy. You can find Honey’s Bar at some of these stations: Ikebukuro, Ebisu, Iidabashi, Tokyo and Shinjuku station.
Check here for more locations and more detail on what goes into their juices and smoothies: https://www.jefb.co.jp/honeysbar/shop/station/
Cheaper Markets for Buying Fruit
Despite the fact that buying fruit can be expensive, there are also cheaper alternatives for those just looking for a quick fix. As we mentioned before; almost every convenience store in Japan carries at minimum ten or more fruit themed products. The produce you’ll find in these stores may be lower quality compared to the more expensive fruit but as the food quality in Japan is exceptional across the board; you should be able to enjoy tasty fruit even from the corner store.
When at your local supermarket, be sure to drop by the discount section. Often, you will see fruit or vegetable on sale for ridiculously low prices because they have a tiny scratch or they are slightly deformed. If you don’t mind your fruit being imperfect, consider this a very affordable way to buy fruit and include it in your diet.
You can also fetch good prices from local vendors which can be found in almost every city. It’s common to see elderly folk selling their wares on the streets or in a pop-up shop around busy areas. Be sure to keep an eye on these sorts of shops as these vendors often grow the produce themselves. Sometimes they’re not looking to make so much on a sale and you can find a superb quality piece of fruit for the same price as lower quality fruit at chain stores.
If you have just started living in Japan or have lived in Japan, you might have heard about hometown tax donation or furusato nouzei program. To sum it up simply, this is a tax incentive scheme, that encourages many urban dwellers to support regional and localized towns in Japan that do not receive a lot of funding. With donations starting from 2000 yen or 20 dollars (estimated) you can receive gifts from these locations. A lot of times, these donations include fruits, veggies and meat that are special and local to the area. So, not only have you contributed to society, but you also receive a lovely care package of edible items that you would not be able to purchase anywhere else for the same price.
Check out the furusato nouzei program here for more details: https://en.furumaru.jp/info/whats_tax.php
Seasonal Fruit and When to Look Out for Them
Nowadays, thanks to technology and greenhouses, we are able to eat fruit all year around. But Japanese people, myself included, are staunch believers that seasons affect the ripeness and tastiness of fruit. Not only that, when they are in season, they are sold in bulk making it a lot cheaper and affordable than if you bought them in the offseason.
So, it is a good idea to know which fruits are seasonal to Japan and which region is famous for what. For example, strawberries are a famous product of Tochigi prefecture, if you are a big fan of strawberries, consider heading over that way during the spring months, to spend an afternoon at a strawberry farm, picking and eating to your heart’s content for a very affordable price. In fact there are many fruit farms around Japan, so if you love fruit, it may be worth looking at some fruit farms online to go visit, as this can provide a rare and unique experience to add to your trip if you are traveling, or just an excuse to get out of the city if you are an urban dweller.
During autumn, there is a bountiful harvest of apples, persimmons and Asian pears (nashi 梨) consider trying these fruits during the fall, as they will be at their optimum sweetness and ripeness. If you have a chance, I definitely recommend trying nashi as they have a unique sweet crunchy texture that you don’t really experience with other pears. I enjoy cooling the nashi down in the fridge before consuming them. You can eat them with or without the skin.
Other fruits that are notably seasonal are mandarin oranges or Mikan. These soft skin oranges are sweet and packed full of vitamin C. They are ready to be eaten in winter and can be sold in bags across all stores, big and small. It will be around this time, that mikan are incredibly cheap.
There are also several types of fruit native to Japan such as white strawberries or Shikuwasa. These can be quite expensive but as gifts, they’re quite unique and unparalleled in quality. Additionally, while we have discussed the various options of fruit, beware that certain fruit will always be more expensive than other. For example, raspberries or bananas, or western pears, these are fruits that are not native to Japan. You may see them in the store occasionally, but it can be quite rare unless you go to a special American store such as Costco or National Azabu.
Do You Think You Can Get Your Fruit Fix now, without It Being Too Expensive?
Traveling throughout Asia brings many new and interesting perspectives that you wouldn’t see at home. Japan does a wonderful job of demonstrating the finer parts of their culture by putting years of culture and tradition into making a product that speaks volumes about the country without words. Attention to detail, excellent taste, and superb presentation are all things that you can expect when purchasing some nice melons in the Shinjuku market or just on the streets at a local vendor. Even at the lowest price point, Japan presents its best when it comes to fresh produce and although it may not seem like the most exciting thing in the world; the flavors you can experience while in Japan are awesome across the board.
Now that you know all of the possible ways to buy fruit, hopefully, you will see that buying fruit in Japan is not only possible but entirely affordable. To conclude, consider buying fruit when they are in season, or checking out the local supermarket for discounted fruit that has ‘defects’. Other places you can check out are local farmers markets in the countryside as well as your nearby convenience store. Do you have a favorite place to get fruit? Let us know in the comments below!