It all started in 1978, when Tomoyuki Ono filed a patent with the intention to ‘provide a molding process’ to produce fruit ‘in various shapes’. It’s not a new ‘frankenfood’, it’s simply a watermelon grown in a rigid box. As it grows, the fruit takes on the shape of the container in which it is grown. Fruits are not just grown in square shapes, but there are also pyramid and heart shapes available.
The original idea behind the square fruits was to save space when stored in small homes. Watermelons take up a lot of space during storage, due to their big, round shape. But the Japanese are all about space-saving and increasing efficiency within their homes. The square watermelons fit better in small refrigerators and are also easier to stack during shipping.
Fruits are a complicated subject in Japan. The fruits produced are expected to be aesthetically pleasing, which means no blemishes or imperfections. And better-looking fruit will fetch a higher price. Space is also limited, and fruit trees take a long time to grow. This means that the fruit produced need to be sold at a higher price for farmers to make a profit. Because of this, fruits make the ideal gift during the seasonal custom of gift-giving (Ochugen). During this time, gifts are given to family, friends, or even business associates. And premium fruits are greatly appreciated. In fact, the more novel, the better. Which is why square watermelons and other oddly shaped fruits are quickly becoming a high-priced luxury item.
Japan even has a luxury fruit gift shop, called Sembikiya, that sells premium fruits at exorbitant prices. Fruits sold here are cultivated in controlled environments, where moisture, temperature, and sunlight are all carefully monitored to ensure only the best quality fruits are picked. Besides watermelons, they sell the muskmelon (a fruit similar to cantaloupe) and strawberries. Foreigners still find it strange that fruit can sell for such a high price, but for the Japanese, fruit is linked with their culture and a gift of luxury fruit is priceless.
Would you pay $200 for a square watermelon?