Watermelons in the shape of cubes, hearts, and pyramids

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There's nothing like the food emporiums in the basements of Japanese department stores. They are huge, free samples are offered, and the products are beautifully packaged and displayed. Many of the items are expensive (like $200 cantaloupes) but not everything is unaffordable.

On our recent vacation to Japan, we visited a few food emporiums for lunch and for snacks. I was eager to see first-hand a heart shaped watermelon (as posted on Boing Boing last year), and sure enough, I found one. What a beauty! And the price has gone down -- last year they cost $150, but this year you can steal one for about $100.

See my photos of watermelons shaped like cubes and pyramids after the jump.

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  1. Thanks, Stefan! I have a lot more photos, and I hope I don’t burn people out with all the ones I plan to post.

  2. Very cool – a beautiful display. I envy you – I’ve never seen anything like it. My guess is that somehow the growers have found a way to manipulate the shapes the watermelons grow in, but it must take a great deal of time and effort.

  3. @dia,

    I think they just pop the growing melons into molds. I remember reading about people doing the same thing to squash about 20 years ago in a science magazine for kids.

    One big question I have is what happens to the waste at these shops? Produce doesn’t last forever hanging out at room temp and you can’t imagine that these products are popular enough to ensure a good turnover.

  4. “but it must take a great deal of time and effort.”

    i think they just grow them in molds.

    1. I saw them make the square watermelons before, they were grown inside wooden moulds. The heart shaped melon is very clever, it’s probably a polycarbonate mold like heydemann3 described.

  5. Really simple principle: after the watermelon flower is fertilised (“by hand” would guarantee it), a container in the desired shape is placed over the blossom and the watermelon grows into it. Since nature is not always predictable I presume that the high cost is due to allowing for the ones that don’t work out.

    There is an old European tradition of placing bottles over the fertilised blossoms on fruit trees — usually pears — and allowing the fruit to grow inside the bottle. There is no attempt to shape the fruit, but when it is ripe the bottle is “picked” and filled with a liqueur made from the same type of fruit.

  6. I’m guessing the red things in the heart mellon picture are tomatoes? They look delicious, but I wonder how they really taste…

    And in all the pretty packaging how are you suppose to get a feel for how ripe and fresh it is? I guess I’m just used to playing with my food before I eat it. Maybe that’s why people look at me weird when I smell tomatoes at the grocery store…

    -and thank goodness all my relatives grow gardens, I’ve been living on tomatoes for the last month. Fresh tomato, toasted bread, Blue Plate mayonnaise, and some good bacon…drool-

  7. Nice polycarbonate molds so the fruit gets enough sunshine. I wonder if those melons taste good too.

  8. 9,450 Japanese yen = 108.10800 U.S. dollars acc. Google.

    A hundred bucks for a melon (ex.tax?).

    What was it like *before* the credit crunch?

  9. I’ve seen pears grown inside bottles for poire/pear william type thing in a very spiffy orchard in Connecticut last year. I don’t think the failure rate is very high. Just it takes a bit of time to set the things up and then to harvest them and take them down. The increased price is about labor costs as much as any other reasonable factor. But I think they just jack the price because they can.

    Over-priced melons have been a Japanese gift item for a very long time. They don’t have to be shaped any special way, they just have to be really, really nice melons. Yeah, go ahead. Roll with that. I dare you.

    It’s sort of like those old time high end greengrocers on the upper east side, only the mark up at those NY markets is only high, the markup on gift melons in the Japanese Department stores is astronomical. I guess there’s a good market for it.

    I have been told that often these melons, being such an indulgence, get regifted, and more than once, rather than eaten. In fact, they keep getting regifted until they rot.

    Somebody needs to introduce the Japanese to fruitcake.

  10. Clear Lucite molds.
    Nothing to it. Even the bubbas here in the States have know about this one for years.

  11. If you think about the amount of engineering and quality control which Japanese growers subject to gift melons, this isn’t very surprising.

    Grown in a greenhouse with precise control over light/dark cycles, humidity, irrigation, and temperature? Check.

    Yields carefully managed to concentrate plant’s energy into most promising melons? Check.

    Those very melons subjected to further inspection so that any with cosmetic flaws are discarded? Check.

    Peak ripeness determined by checking the flesh with scans from MEDICAL EQUIPMENT!? Check.

  12. burn people out? I think that BBers are significantly more likely to be fascinated with fruit forced into unnatural shapes than the avg non-BBer. And that they are from japan and crazy chedda? Well that’s just extra.

    So bring it on!

    I ‘memba hearing about this before the internet and dying to see them. Yeah, and I too wanna know, what ARE those red things? Plums?

  13. “I’ve seen pears grown inside bottles for poire/pear william”

    Had my peach tree not succumbed to I don’t know what, this year I had planned on doing this with each and every peach blossom to keep those FFFFFFING squirrels out. HaHa squirrels, I won! The tree is dead!

  14. But are they seedless? I find the new seedless hybrids to be more “Jolly Rancher Watermelon-flavored” than fully watermelon-y like the old dark green-skinned watermelons with seeds. There’s something missing in the flavor of a seedless watermelon. It’s like a wine that’s missing a rich body note.

    Plus, seedless watermelons deprive watermelon lovers one of the most satisfying interactive joys of eating watermelons: spitting the seeds! Or toasting them to mix in with broken up rice cakes (tamari flavored with sesame seeds are a great match.)

    Or convincing someone that swallowing one will lead to a watermelon vine growing out one’s ears or, best of all, ass.

    1. But are they seedless?

      I’d think not. To most of the people I’ve talked to here, seedless watermelons sound completely alien.

      While fruit is always expensive here, there is plenty of obscenely-priced fruit for use as gifts even in regular supermarkets, e.g. a rather small box of big blue grapes that usually goes for ~USD 80.

  15. @Mark Noooo!! You came to Tokyo and didn’t had a local Happy Mutants meet up?! ^_^’

  16. I’m guessing the red things in the heart mellon picture are tomatoes? They look delicious, but I wonder how they really taste…

    I can guarantee these would taste tip-top. In these basement food places you pretty much can’t go wrong – whatever you choose. Unfortunately you’ll usually leave with no money. The tomatoes in the background are Â¥8400 (yep… more than 90 bucks).

    There is an old European tradition of placing bottles over the fertilised blossoms on fruit trees — usually pears — and allowing the fruit to grow inside the bottle. There is no attempt to shape the fruit, but when it is ripe the bottle is “picked” and filled with a liqueur made from the same type of fruit.

    When I was living in Japan I was given a bottle like the one you describe for my birthday. It was so rich that it barely tasted like alcohol whatsoever. Good stuff. It was fun but dangerous trying to dig the pear out of the bottle with a knife after we drank the liqueur.

    Something that they often have in regular supermarkets in Tokyo, which kind of blew my mind, was yellow watermelon. This might be normal in other places, but in Aus we have nothing but good ol’ red watermelon.

  17. The red things are actually cherries. They must be very expensive as well.

    Strangely it says on he watermelon that it is for looking at, (literally for an aesthetic use) I wonder if that means your not supposed to eat it. Seems very strange to me. I also guess that it is very small because even the largest Japanese cherries are not that big.

    I will ask the next time I am in a department store. I am sure you can eat it, but maybe they mean the flavor is not particularly good or something. Japanese melons and watermelons are very good and always quite expensive (somewhat due to the excessive use of fertilizer and pesticides). Look into the organization called JA Japan agriculture for more shocking info on Japanese fruits and veggies. There are nearly no organic products available in Japan.

    1. The one in the photo is probably a display model.

      You’re right, cherries, blueberries, and raspberries are super super pricey here. (Olives and cheese aren’t exactly cheap either.)

      @Anon28: Production levels are not nearly the problem that distribution systems are. Sounds like someone needs a heart-shaped watermelon!

  18. In a world full of hungry people one would think that higher production levels would take precedence but they do not!

  19. I found this “Watermelon News Report” which is from Japanese TV, last year apparently since the price is 15,000 yen. They say that since the fruits are harvested before maturity they are not sweet, so they are mainly intended for show not consumption.

    FWIW There was also this video showing how to grow a square watermelon. It talks about building a plastic hinged box. Whereas the above news report says they use reinforced plastic boxes.

    Lastly, this awesome Japanese chef can peel a watermelon in 30 seconds. How awesome!

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