Yes, square watermelons are real—and they’re really expensive. Topped with bows, they can command prices above $100 in Japanese stores and as high as $860 abroad.
Square watermelons don’t come from special seeds. They’re regular melons that were placed inside boxes while growing. The resulting shape makes the fruit easier to transport, cut, and store. Square watermelons sit neatly in small Japanese refrigerators, and they also fit a tradition of giving beautiful, expensive fruits as gifts.
The city of Zentusji in Kagawa prefecture is the center of Japan’s square watermelon industry, and many reports credit a local farmer with developing the idea in the 1980s. However, in 1978, a Japanese horticulturist and artist named Tomoyuki Ono applied to patent a “molding process for a natural fruit.” Ono found that a melon placed in a “transparent molding frame” would grow to fit the enclosure, and he showed off his handiwork in a gallery exhibition. When square watermelons hit the market in 1979, they sold for around $20 in Tokyo, compared to $9 for an old-fashioned oval melon, according to a United Press International report at the time.
Though Ono’s patent claimed that the “taste of the molded fruit is no less than that of a natural fruit,” today’s square watermelons are typically better to look at than they are to eat. They’re harvested before they’re fully ripe and mostly serve as decorative gifts.
Not satisfied with a plain, old square watermelon? You can also find pyramid and heart-shaped varieties.
Need to Know
You can find square watermelons in high-end Japanese grocery stores and luxury Tokyo fruit emporiums like Sembikiya and Nishimura Fruits Parlour.
Where to Try It
SembikiyaNihonbashi Mitsui Tower, 2-1-2 Nihonbashi Muromachi, Chuo-ku, Tokyo, 103-0022, Japan
This luxury Tokyo fruit store has been in business since 1834.