Fifty-nine limited edition bananas went on sale at Tokyo's high-end Takashimaya department store last Friday. The bananas, chosen for their length and weight by fruit-picker Dole, were given serial numbers and placed in individual coffin-esque boxes, before being sold for ¥590 ($5.70) each. To receive such preferential treatment, the premium bananas had to reach over 23 centimeters in length, and weigh in at more than 200 grams. An average banana, Dole says, clocks in at a comparatively puny 100 grams.
The bananas are known as Gokusen, a name that roughly translates as "highest quality selection." The first half of the name also acts as a pun that references both the number of bananas and the date they went on sale: "go" and "ku" are common readings for the numbers five and nine. Bunches of the bananas are available year-round and can be purchased online for around ¥1,200 ($11.73), but they're presented in a clear plastic bag, rather than the special edition bananas' vanity cases.
Six dollars for a banana may sound like a hefty fee — Dole's own promotional video notes the Gokusen bananas are "a little expensive" — but the price is insignificant in comparison with some of Japan's premium fruits. Gifts are often exchanged between friends, colleagues, or business associates, and the country's fruit producers have capitalized on the culture. Even small local supermarkets often sell aesthetically pleasing melons for more than $30 a fruit, while certain grocery stores have outfitted themselves like jewelry stores, selling 12 perfect strawberries for $83.
The largest sums have been spent on Yubari melons. In 2013, a pair of the Hokkaido-grown melons sold for ¥1.6 million ($15,730), a staggering amount that's still only the third-highest amount paid for the fruit. Some growers have taken strange steps to make their crop worthy of such inflated prices — one company plays Mozart to its bananas as they ripen.