Watermelon (Suika スイカ) and Japanese summer go together like fireworks and yukata. This refreshing fruit is in season from June to August and is best eaten during beach parties or while relaxing on your porch at home. But no matter where you decide to eat it, its taste means summer.
A fancy gift
Fruit in Japan is very expensive and the watermelon is no exception. Some of the most famous watermelons auction for 350,000 yen a piece during the first days of harvest. And then there's a special type of black watermelon grown in Hokkaido that retails for around 5,000 yen apiece. But why is fruit so expensive?
Unlike the West, fruit is not an everyday item in Japan and therefore it is considered a luxury product. Gift giving is a Japanese tradition and is meant to show appreciation or build a relationship. The importance of gifts is not to be taken lightly and there are luxury stores dedicated to fruit gifts. Combined with the fact that Japanese farmers only want the best fruit, removing the bad or misshapen fruits from the general market. This means fewer fruits actually make it to the store and this increases the price.
You want it round or square?
Japan gained international watermelon fame with the introduction of the square watermelon. The reason why farmers decide to grow their fruits in square glass boxes is so that it would fit better in refrigerators. This type of watermelon quickly became a product of luxury instead of a product of convenience. Nowadays you can also find watermelons in heart shapes, with a face printed on them or even in the shape of a human face! A square watermelon is not a common sight in supermarkets, so be prepared to pay at least 10,000 yen for a regular sized one.
Suikawari (スイカ割り) - the art of smashing watermelons
If you want to eat your watermelon in an original and destructive way, look no further. Suikawari is a summer game where a blindfolded person attempts to smash a watermelon with a stick. Everyone takes turns and the first person to crack the watermelon open wins. Usually a sheet or piece of cardboard is placed under the watermelon so the smashed pieces are kept safe from the ground.
Suikawari is so popular that in 1991 the "Japan Suika-Wari Association (JSWA)" established a set of written rules for the game. The association no longer exists but it is pretty amazing that it even did. Some of the rules concerned the distance between the watermelon and the player, the type of stick to be used and JSWA-recognized blindfolds were to be used. Judges at the competition were required to have eaten at least ten watermelons in the current year. It makes you wonder how they were even able to check all these rules.
You want some salt with that melon?
Japanese fruits is generally sweeter than the fruit most people are used to. But this is not the reason you will sometimes see Japanese add salt to their watermelon. There are three possible reasons for adding salt to a watermelon. Firstly, it is used to increase the already sweet taste of the fruit. Apparently adding salt to something sweet increases your taste buds' reception to any sweet flavor. Secondly, summer is a very hot and humid season in Japan and your body craves salt because of excessive sweating. The warmth actually makes you crave salt and the addition of a cool watermelon makes it all the more refreshing. And finally, watermelons in Japan are almost always iced or cooled making them nice and refreshing. However, the cold temperature removes some of the sweet flavor and it can only be resurrected by using some salt.
We hope you get to enjoy many watermelons during your summer in Japan!