Hey, everybody! Expensive fruit season is back! (But really, the question is did it ever actually leave?)
I know, I know, clueless foreigner making fun of 100 dollar square watermelons and 12 000 dollar cantaloupes is hilarious (where hilarious = totally done to death), but I was cruising around my local department store food section in search of cilantro and coconut milk (these staples of my diet are not readily available, sadly), and saw a display of NEW! EXPENSIVE! FRUIT! and couldn't help snapping a few pictures, and in the process collecting some disdainful and disapproving looks from fabulous passers-by and stock boys alike.
I do not understand the price-politics of the Japanese grocery store. There's the thing with the bonkers-expensive fruit, we know that. (For the uninitiated, the expensive fruit is intended to be given as a gift, to a boss or a respected family member, or someone to whom you owe a great debt of gratitude, or perhaps a friend who is sick in the hospital. A gift of expensive fruit garners a certain amount of thanks and respect because, hey, EXPENSIVE! and also, they generally come from EXPENSIVE department stores, which are brand names, and therefore EXPENSIVE and awesome.) But then there are also staples, like rice for example, that just cost. so. much. money. I bought 500 grams of brown rice today, for about 9 USD, and it was no specialsuperhealthyorganicmacrobiotic rice, just the crappiest, cheapest kind in the crappy cheap Wal-mart derivative grocery store where I do most of my shopping because I'm cheap. Compare that with a similarly sized box in the US, at 3 USD.
So, I know that Japan has all sorts of rules and regulations set up designed to protect its economy. I also know that it still sees itself very much as an agricultural country, and therefore has a certain collective emotional investment in propping up its farmers. Also, the farmers are apparently a fairly powerful political force, and as such, politicians are keenly aware of farmers' interests, and happy to keep food prices protected.
There is also the idea that Japanese people prefer to buy local; they see their own produce as being superior to imports (and given the problems that their biggest neighbour is facing in the food safety department, could you really blame them?) But what about Taiwan? Or Australia?
And then there's the idea that it's better to buy locally - you know, for the environment and everything. This I totally don't buy. If you see the amount of packaging that goes into Japanese foodstuffs, you'd be amazed: individually wrapped apples; bubble wrap for every bottle you buy; special plastic bags to keep the rain off your paper bags. Environment-shimiroment.
Normal people just don't make buckets of money in Japan. For example, a friend of mine recently hired a trilingual secretary for about 12 USD / hour. And that's considered a pretty high wage. Rent is crazy expensive. So, how do people afford to eat?
I, for one, am not too sure. My fruit purchases are limited to bananas. Because of my aforementionedcheapskatedness.
Amended to add: