Million Yen Melons Make Mouthwatering Mementos

Melons... ya gotta love 'em, and love 'em a LOT to pay the equivalent of $16,300 US dollars for a prime pair of the juicy fruit. Then again, the whole auction process for these carefully cultivated cantaloupes might be a sly staged publicity event orchestrated to bring attention to the northern town of Yubari and advertise the farm produce grown there.

All those who guessed the latter, step up and take your prize: a chance to gaze longingly upon this tasty Yubari melon flavored Kit Kat bar. See, even Nestle Japan is in on the charade!

Yubari farmers have been growing melons for decades - actually, 2010 marks the 50th anniversary of local melon production and the establishment of the Sapporo City Central Wholesale Market where they are sold. Savvy admen soon saw a way to boost Yubari's admittedly delicious melons into the public eye: hold an auction and stoke the bidding.

Does it work? Indeed it does: the melons' value today depends not so much on their rarity or perfection, but on the public's perception that giving an expensive gift reflects well on the gift-giver. Holding a sealed-bid auction would completely defeat the purpose. By the way, a total of 54 choice Yubari melons were auctioned off and selling prices on all but the highest-bid pair were not disclosed.

Fancy finagling or not, the price of Yubari melons sold at the heavily hyped annual auctions tends to fluctuate in response to macroeconomic factors beyond the control of the Sapporo City Central Wholesale Market. For example, the high bid for a pair of Yubari melons at the 2007 auction was 2 million yen ($21,740), rising to 2.5 million yen ($27,175) in 2008. Last year however, the recession brought about by the World Financial Crisis dampened the bidding and the high bid was a mere 500,000 yen ($5,435). The 1.5 million yen ($16,300) high bid for 2010 must surely have come as a relief to Yubari farmers, melon marketers, and the Yubari City government which is supposedly bankrupt.

So, who was the big spender this year? Before you clap your hands, hold your nose... the winner was Kurashige Shoten an intermediate wholesaler at the Sapporo City Central Wholesale Market. The plan is to give one melon each to company bigwigs who are being rewarded for their efforts in developing the Sapporo City Central Wholesale Market. Can you say "conflict of interest?" I knew you could. (via Mainichi Daily News, Kit-Kat image via Candy Addict)