As a preschool teacher, I often hear (and use) the question: “what is your favorite fruit?” For me, the answer is easy: watermelon. But not just any watermelon, Japanese watermelon!
You see, I’ve devoured watermelon in the Middle East, in Europe, in America, in Australasia and in Asian countries outside of Japan. However, I stand by my word that the Japanese watermelon is one in a melon (forgive me, I had to!)
If you’re not on the same page (yet) and you’re still not sure why these watermelons are special, let me break it down for y’all.
1. Nom factor: You’ve got a winner!
Watermelons are sweet regardless in which part of the world you’re enjoying them in, but nothing compares to the Japanese watermelon — these babies are crazy sweet delicious!
The main reason behind this is that watermelons in Japan — like many other fruits, in fact — are considered a luxury: something you’d give to a really important sempai as a thank you or summer gift rather than something essential for your seasonal diet. With that in mind, farmers in Japan grow watermelons as if they were a piece of rare jewelry to please your guts: they choose the perfect soil, the perfect seeds, the perfect pruning methods and everything else to make them look and taste heavenly — if watermelons could be massaged, I bet that’d happen, too!
To add to that, Japanese watermelon’s rind is much much thinner than all other kinds I have eaten, (i.e countless) meaning, getting plenty more for your buck.
2. Shapes and figures: Too many fancy kinds
Square…pyramid…heart shaped…and black. Japanese are incredible when it comes to producing out-of-the-box fruit.
Square watermelons, which are typically sold only at expensive department stores, were originally intended for space efficiency in small refrigerators. To make them grown into a cube shape, the fruits are placed into special containers in the shape of a cube. Today, they are primarily sold for ornamental novelty due to their unmentionable price tags.
Joining them are watermelons in the shape of hearts, pyramids, and even jinmen suika – watermelons in the shape of a human face! A bit creepy, but, hey, how creative is that?
Lastly, black watermelon, produced in the town of Toma, Hokkaido island, is famous for their extra sweet taste in comparison to normal Japanese watermelon (which as already mentioned are super sweet in the first place).
3. An essential summer adventure: No prep piñata
Now that we’ve established that watermelons are gifts and delicious summer treats, you should also know that they are culturally significant too. You haven’t attended a true Japanese summer community gathering or festival in Japan if it hasn’t included suikawari (literally, watermelon splitting).
Much like the game of piñata in Mexico, suikawari involves cracking a watermelon open with a wooden stick, or bokken (a wooden sword), while blindfolded. Afterwards, the broken pieces of watermelon are shared among the participants. For this reason, a clean sheet or cardboard box is placed beneath the watermelon before the game begins.
4. Health benefits, too
Perhaps this should have been at the top of my list. Watermelons, in general, boast incredible health benefits. Firstly, watermelon are 92% water (hence the name) making them a perfect hydrating summer snack. In addition, watermelons are high in vitamins A and C which are fantastic for skin and hair health as well as boosting our bodies immunities and combating fatigue. Considering that you’d want to lick your hands every time you eat Japanese watermelon, you’ll basically be making your body a huge favor.
5. Purely entertaining and extremely versatile
Personally, I can eat watermelon for breakfast, lunch and dinner. That’s how much I love it.
It is common in Japan to eat watermelon with a bit of salt (that supposedly makes them taste even sweeter), but my guess is that coming from abroad you wouldn’t like that. So, instead of that, you can use your Japanese watermelon to make all kinds of unique drinks and dishes: watermelon juice, watermelon chopped in fruit or in savory salads, chopped in breakfast bowls and or plain yogurt, watermelon “pizza,” watermelon “popsicles,” and many more.
As to salads, my personal favorite is my “summer special”: a mix of chopped watermelon, cucumber, feta, fresh, fresh basil and chopped walnuts dressed in balsamic vinegar. You can also try making a watermelon salsa — simply mix watermelon, mango, red onion, basil, and cucumber, dress with fresh lime juice and season with salt and pepper. You won’t believe how good this tastes like!
The downside: It’s hella of a pricey fruit!
Ok, every rose has its thorns and every Japanese watermelon has its downside: it’s damn expensive. If you’re into watermelons as gifts, it might cost you as much as ¥10,000 to ¥15,000 — especially if they come in a heart or cube shapes.
Not for the regular folks out there, but given that even the usual watermelons at the supermarket (those are sold for around ¥600 to ¥3,000) taste so good, it might be definitely worth giving it a try — at least once in your Japan life!
Enjoy the watermelon season – it’s just around the corner!