How much would you be willing to pay for a piece of fruit? Like many others, I would baulk at paying more than $10 for a single piece of fruit. Compare that to the type of fruit Japanese businessmen buy to cement relationships every year, where prices can start at 10,000 yen and go over 30,000 yen.
So, how much does fruit have to cost before it raises an eyebrow in Japan? 50,000 yen? 100,000 yen? Actually it’s much higher. The Independent newspaper recently cited a 550,000 yen ($4500) bunch of grapes making a stir at a wedding. Yep, that much!
“(In western countries) crop yields are high and much of the crop is used for processing into juices, jams, wines, and so on, so there tends to be little concern for appearance.” A representative for the Takasago International Corporation explains.
The company believes that geographic differences account for the different attitudes towards fruit, “Japan is a long, narrow country with much steep, rugged terrain. The amount of arable land is small… So, in order to improve the economics of growing fruit, there is a focus on cultivating varieties that both look and taste good.”
In Japan, the ritual is far more important than the gift itself.
The ‘look’ part of this equation is especially important. Before buying the fruit, it will be carefully checked as the slightest imperfection will make it an inappropriate gift.
In Japan, the presentation is arguably more important than the taste. Damaged packaging or badly-arranged pieces can actually cause offense. If these precautions sound excessive, remember that we’re talking about spending a hundred dollars plus on a piece of fruit, so it better damn well be the most perfect fruit ever!
Intriguingly for people like me who would struggle to name a single brand, there are a number of fruit brands that tell the recipient that it is an excellent piece of fruit. If you want to look really cool, Densuke melons, Ruby Roman grapes, Yubari cantaloupes, and Sekai-ichi apples are the ones to watch out for. Be careful of foreign imports too, for this bit of gift-giving, it has to be made in Japan.
If you can’t buy the brand you want, then giving something unusual is the way forward. In a world where Japanese people like to one-up each other, the growers have gone to ever more extreme measures to make their products stand out. Fruits are squeezed into glass frames and cages to create ever more intricate shapes.
Cool products include things like pentagonal oranges and heart-shaped melons. Supposedly creating the heart shape took 3 straight years of experimentation, so hopefully it will cause a moment’s reflection before the recipient eats it!
However, as with anything Japanese, there are a lot of rules to be aware of when giving fruit as a gift. Ever noticed that seemingly identical fruits have a range of prices? This is because it is considered poor form to give the same quality piece of fruit to two people with different ranks.
The senior person should always get the highest quality and consequently the most expensive piece of fruit. In addition, knives or scissors should never be given to cut the fruit. Many people consider it a sign that the relationship itself will be ‘cut’ soon if these implements are included.
If you find all of this hard to remember, luckily the golden rule of present giving applies in Japan too: it’s the thought that counts. In this country, the ritual is far more important than the gift itself.
This is why you will probably have experienced Japanese people giving you something unusual at some point for the sake of giving something (My winner was 20 radishes).
For this reason, you will still hear presents being given with the words つまらないものですが (Tsumaranai mono desu ga- This is a dull thing), the meaning being that the relationship between the two people is far more important than the inconsequential gift.*
*In business, this can sound a little rude, so often you will hear ほんの印ばかりですが、お気に召したら嬉しいです (honno shirushi bakari desu ga, oki ni meshitara ureshii desu- this is a token of my gratitude) or the easier to say よろしければどうぞ (Yoroshikereba douzo).