Whether it be bright red, juicy strawberries, in delicate packaging, or a single cantaloupe perfectly round, creamy and sweet, the reputation of perfect fruit in Japan is far-reaching. From square watermelons, carefully grown in clear glass molds to beautiful, evenly red apples the size of a toddler's head, one thing about Japanese fruit is certain-- quality reigns over quantity, and the quality of Japanese fruit is unsurpassed world-wide. However, a couple of questions remain unanswered in our public consciousness. How did high-quality fruit become a luxury item in Japan? And perhaps moreso, how do these seemingly perfect pieces of produce even come into existence?
It should come as no surprise that the cultural obsession with perfect fruit in Japan stems from their rich culture of gift giving. It is Japanese custom to give gifts to those you are indebted to twice a year-- mid-year, some time around July, and at the end of the year in December. It is also customary for worshippers to leave gifts of food at shrines as tokens of gratitude and appreciation for the gods. Sometime around the Meiji restoration, as the Japanese economy grew and gift-giving culture expanded, the two traditions dovetailed and the custom of giving delicious, high quality food, particularly fruit as it is considered a non-essential food item, as a gift to friends, family, coworkers and other community members was born.
One shop in particular, located in present-day Tokyo, rode the wave of this cultural transformation to become the top seller of premium fruit in Japan, and possibly even the world. Sembikiya Sotohen, with its flagship store in the historic district of Nihonbashi, has a humble beginning in the Edo period as a simple fruit s