The Japanese are known to be a fruit-obsessed nation. It is where you can find heart-shaped watermelons and white strawberries, and also where a single melon can fetch thousands of dollars. The growers behind these melons tend to their crops with attention, detail and care - and this even means massaging their melons to make them sweeter.
They call this ‘ball wiping’ and it's a widespread practice when growing the prized Yubari melons which command the greatest price. These muskmelons are sold at around $100-$10,000 each (there was one in 2013 that sold at over $15,000) - the video below sums up the craze.
'Ball wiping’ is the technique of rubbing the outside of the melon. It’s an important process in the love and care that goes into growing these precious fruits, requiring growers, called melon craftsmen, to wear white gloves as they give the melons a vigorous massage all over the outer skin. It’s believed to make the melons sweeter.
The melons also get to wear little black cone caps, giving them the nickname of 'crown melons', which are put over the top in order to protect their pale skin from sunburn. Apart from a chewy, sweet taste, the appearance of the skin is a big deciding factor in the price of the melon. The more even, and finer the skin pattern is, the higher the price it can fetch on the market.
Fruit has long held a strong symbolic meaning in Japanese culture, where the act of gifting fruit is a custom that is taken very seriously. This also means that growing fruit is considered an art in Japan which involves many labour-intensive techniques in the pursuit of perfection.