(CNN) — Visitors to a hot spring in central Japan will soon be able to snack on $460 grapes, or rather, grape.
That’s after the manager of a chain of hot spring hotels in Ishikawa Prefecture, on the northern coast of the main Honshu island, became the winning bidder for a bunch of Ruby Roman grapes at an auction in Kanazawa on Tuesday.
Takashi Hosokawa will pay 1.2 million yen, or around $11,000, for the 24 plump, deep red grapes prized for their juiciness, high sugar content and low acidity. It’s the most expensive bunch since the breed came to market 12 years ago, the auctioneers said.
“We would like to convey to our customers our exhilaration when we held the (box of) grapes.”
Ruby Roman grapes, grown in central Japan, are among the most expensive in the world, prized for their sweetness and low acidity.
Ruby Red grapes were developed in Ishikawa and first came to market in 2008. They’ve been hugely popular ever since, with only a select number being sold to keep demand and exclusivity levels high. Around 26,000 will be sold this year, though not all will go for the record prices seen at the Kanazawa auction.
Expensive fruit, prized for their appearance and taste, are a key luxury good in Japan, bought as gifts or for promotional purposes by businesses.
In Japan, there’s a specialty fruit craze sweeping the nation, from square watermelons to grapes the size of Ping-Pong balls. Still, the crown jewel of the luxury fruit basket is the white strawberry, bred to be a whole lot bigger and a whole lot sweeter than its classic red counterpart.
These can often be uniquely shaped or colored fruit, which are painstakingly cultivated or forced to grow in a specific way, such as square watermelons, heart-shaped strawberries or the albino White Jewel strawberries grown in Karatsu, on Japan’s southern Kyushu Island.
“Everyone is surprised when they see a white strawberry,” farmer Yasuhito Teshima told CNN’s Great Big Story. Because of the difficulty of growing the strawberry and protecting them from blemishes or damage — which shows up far more on white than red fruit — he is only able to sell around 10% of his crop. Packs of the strawberries cost around $40 each.
That’s nothing compared to Okuda Nichio’s “scoop-shaped” Beautiful Princess strawberries, tennis ball sized red fruit that go for about 500,000 yen ($4,395) each. Only around 500 of the strawberries are produced every year.
Expensive luxury melons, prized for their taste and the delicate pattern on their surface, on sale in Hong Kong.
ANTHONY WALLACE/AFP/AFP/Getty Images
Lynne Nakano, a professor of Japanese studies at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, said that the structure of Japan’s farming market encourages producers to focus on specialty goods.
“The structure of farming (in Japan) is different from many other places, in part because of its history of the US coming in during the occupation and saying no more large farms,” she said. “With small farms the way to compete is not through scale but through having some kind of special product.”
She said that many of the purchasers of these record-breaking fruits have close connections to the farming communities and want to support, and be seen to support, them.
“There’s a lot of talk about problems in the Japanese farming industry,” Nakano said. “Particularly as farmers are aging … people want to give encouragement to young farmers that they can make a profit or do well.”
And while $11,000 may seem an insane amount of money to spend on a bunch of grapes, it’s not as excessive as it seems.
“It’s a lot of money for grapes but it’s not a lot of money for an advertisement,” Nakano said. “It’s something that people would like to talk about because it’s so crazy. It actually makes some economic sense.”
Carefully shaped watermelons are among the expensive fruit prized in Japan as gifts.
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