*All photos by Aiste Miseviciute of Luxeat. Check out her blog for many beautiful photos of her meals in Japan.
A visit to Japan for any foodie would not be complete without a careful peruse of the upscale fruit shops. My personal favorite is Nihonbashi Sembikiya, which is Japan’s oldest fruit shop. Sembikiya originated in 1834 in Koshigaya, north of Tokyo. It was started by a samurai and moved to the mercantile district of Nihonbashi in 1867. Japan’s first fruit restaurant, selling then opened in 1887. The restaurant was the forerunner to the modern day fruit parlor. It is at the fruit parlors where customers can sit and enjoy freshly squeezed fruit juices and sliced fruits as well as parfaits.
Perhaps the most famous of Japanese fruit is the muskmelon. Here it is wrapped up.
Yes, in a wooden box and cradled with packaging to prevent it from bruising.
The muskmelon from Sembikiya all come from Shizuoka prefecture. Shizuoka was selected as it gets a lot of sunshine. In the summertime the melons are kept cool with air-conditioning; in the wintertime, kept warm with heaters. And, on each plant only one melon is left to grow while all of the others are cut off. This is so that all of the water and sunlight will be used to nurture the one melon.
And, here are the results. A juicy, sweet muskmelon that melts in your mouth.
When purchasing one of these gift melons the store clerk will ask you on which day it will be eaten. They then select one in your price range that will be at its peak time for consumption on that day. This melon was purchased five days before it was going to be eaten. It cost about 12,000 JPY (or about $120 USD at current exchange rates). Aiste, of Luxeat, who purchased this was advised to keep the melon out at room temperature until she was ready to eat it. Then, to put it in the fridge about two hours before to cool it down.
If you will be visiting Tokyo the best way to try a slice of one of these melons is to visit a fruit parlor. Nihonbashi Sembikiya has a café on the first floor next to the fruit shop, Caffe di FESTA, for purchasing freshly squeezed juices and fruit shakes. The second floor is a proper restaurant where sliced fruits, parfaits, and curries made with fruit are served. Depachika, the epicurean food halls in the basement of department stores, also have eat-in counters where customers can indulge in sliced fruits, freshly squeezed juices, and other fruit-based sweets. Here is a list of my favorite depachika in Tokyo.
In this photo are Nagasaki biwa (loquats, Eriobotrya japonica), in season in the spring. These tangy and sweet fruit can be eaten fresh or simmered in a simple syrup. It is also lovely in a gelatin. 8,925 JPY per box.
The apple season is just ending its season in Japan. These red Fuji apples come from Aomori prefecture in the north of Japan. Aiste bought some apples and the store clerk had advised her that the peak “shun” or best time for eating apples had passed and that these apples were not as sweet as they are in January or February. She bought one and gave it to me and I have to agree with the store clerk. It was not as juicy or sweet as they can be. 1,050 JPY per apple.
Miyazaki, on the southern island of Kyushu, reminds me of Hawaii. Arriving at the airport one is greeted with palm trees and a coastal breeze. Miyazaki is known for many food and beverages such as shōchū, jidori (local chicken), and mangoes. These juicy fruit bombs can be super sweet and very tender. One Miyazaki mango can go for as much as 20,000 JPY. As you can see, the high-end fruit come in wooden boxes and are cradled with packaging to prevent it from bruising. The package on the right with two mangoes and flowers are being promoted as a special gift for Mother’s Day.
Here are two Shizuoka muskmelon for 23,100 JPY presented in a wooden box.
Suika (watermelon) are just now coming into season in Japan. These Kodama suika from Gunma prefecture are perfectly round and go for 4,200 JPY.
The most impressive display of fresh fruit are these wooden boxes of sakurarnbo cherries from Yamagata prefecture. The box on the right has 40 cherries all of the same size that are lined up in perfect rows for an astonishing 21,525 JPY (over $200 USD). That is about $5 USD per cherry.
On the depachika food tours we do for Food Sake Tokyo we visit a fruit shop in a department store basement. Clients are always surprised at the exorbitant price of the fruit in these shops. Of course, this is not where we go to buy fruit to eat at home. Fruit purchased here is part of the rich gift-giving culture in Japan. As Mother’s Day is coming up there are many signs at Sembikiya suggesting giving fruit to your mother as a gift. Fruit are also popular as gifts for elderly friends or if someone is in the hospital.
Be sure to visit a fruit shop when you are in Japan. Indulge in a slice of muskmelon or some freshly squeezed fruit juice at the fruit parlor.
Chuo-ku, Nihonbashi Muromachi 2-1-2, Nihonbashi Mitsui Tower
Phone: 03-3241-1630 (fruit parlor and restaurant)
Fruit shop and Caffe di FESTA hours 9:00 – 19:00 daily