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In the US, watermelons are a common sight in front of grocery stores in the summer, and they tend to sell for about 50 cents per pound. But in Moscow, you could drop a good chunk of your paycheck on the fruit. According to reports from Tokyo, cube-shaped watermelons that are grown in Japan are fetching as much as 28,000 rubles ($860 USD) in luxury supermarkets — about 300 times the price of a regular watermelon. Even stranger, buyers aren’t even eating the fruit; according to reports, the square melons aren’t ripe, and people buy the ornamental fruit “just for fun.”
But wait: How did those watermelons become cube-shaped in the first place? Melons, much like gourds, can be trained to grow in a variety of shapes if you constrict their growth as they mature. So if you take a young watermelon and place it in a box, it will take the shape of the box and continue to grow in a cube shape. Beyond aesthetics, growers have good reason to produce square melons; round and oval fruit waste valuable space when being stored and shipped, while square fruit can be packed more efficiently, and they’re also easier to cut.
Novelty watermelons are kind of a thing in Japan, which is the source of all this melon madness. There, as Kotaku notes, growers produce watermelons in shapes ranging from hearts to pyramids to smiley faces with googly eyes. Training melons to grow in unusual shapes is actually rather difficult, and it can take years for growers to get them just right. (According to Kotaku, it took growers three years to perfect the heart-shaped melon.) Because they’re such a niche market and they’re grown in very small batches, these specialty melons are pricy in Japan — a large, heart-shaped melon might sell for $350, for example — but they don’t fetch anything close to $850 that Moscow supermarkets are charging.
Second photo by Laughlin Elkind