The $23,000 cataloupe, and other expensive melons

From gas to corn and other basic foodstuffs, it seems like the price of everything is on the rise these days. That's why it seems incomprehensible to most Westerners that last month a pair of cantaloupes sold at a Japanese auction for $23,500 -- and that other fruits which are relatively cheap other places in the world are outrageously expensive in Japan. Of course, the five-figure fruits were bought at a charity auction -- but even the price of non-auction fruit will leave your jaw on the floor. At Senbikiya, at upscale shop in Tokyo, two bunches of grapes will make your wallet about $40 lighter, and the prices only go up from there. And a few weeks ago, a rare black watermelon made headlines around the world by selling for $6,100. So we know the prices are insane -- but why? The Times had one answer:

"Japan is probably the only country in the world where you have fruit as a gift concept," said Ushio Ooshima, a director at Senbikiya, whose main store in Nihonbashi alone sells 40 to 50 high-priced melons a day and as many as 200 a day during the mid-year and end-year gift-giving seasons. At Senbikiya, "99 percent of the purchases here are for gift," Ooshima said. In the culture of gift giving, a melon may be offered as a special present to an important client, to a person to whom a debt of gratitude is owed, or to a sick friend as a get-well gesture.

So there are regular grocery-chain melons and fruits -- which at $5 for a honeydew still sounds pricey to Americans, but is nowhere near the stratospheric range of a $100 melon, which are specially-farmed as high-end gift fruits. So what's the difference?

Most Japanese will tell you that there's no comparison:

"They are definitely different, from the scent of it to the texture of it," said Shigeko Hoshi who lives in Tokyo and occasionally eats the expensive fruit when her family receives one as a gift. "The sweetness is exquisitely balanced with the sourness of it." They also have to look the part: "perfectly round with the mesh-like surface pattern impeccably even," according to Tsuneo Anma, general secretary of a growers' group based in Fukuroi.

Naturally, the most prized melon plants are as fussed over as an ancient Bonsai tree. They're farmed in specially-designed greenhouses in select locations throughout Japan, in which the air is conditioned and the moisture level of the soil is carefully moderated. Melon vines are trimmed to allow only three melons to grow, and when they reach a certain level of maturity, two of the three melons are cut off to allow the supreme melon all the nutrients that the vines have to give.

"People go, 'What a difference does a gift melon make,"' Ooshima said. "People usually don't eat the very best for themselves. They set it aside for others as a gift," which is the very essence of Japanese gift-giving.

Source: The International Times.
Photo via Sarah&Gen.

Why Tiny 'Hedgehog Highways' Are Popping Up Around London

Hedgehogs as pets have gained popularity in recent years, but in many parts of the world, they're still wild animals. That includes London, where close to a million of the creatures roam streets, parks, and gardens, seeking out wood and vegetation to take refuge in. Now, Atlas Obscura reports that animal activists are transforming the city into a more hospitable environment for hedgehogs.

Barnes Hedgehogs, a group founded by Michel Birkenwald in the London neighborhood of Barnes four years ago, is responsible for drilling tiny "hedgehog highways" through walls around London. The passages are just wide enough for the animals to climb through, making it easier for them to travel from one green space to the next.

London's wild hedgehog population has seen a sharp decline in recent decades. Though it's hard to pin down accurate numbers for the elusive animals, surveys have shown that the British population has dwindled by tens of millions since the 1950s. This is due to factors like human development and habitat destruction by farmers who aren't fond of the unattractive shrubs, hedges, and dead wood that hedgehogs use as their homes.

When such environments are left to grow, they can still be hard for hedgehogs to access. Carving hedgehog highways through the stone partitions and wooden fences bordering parks and gardens is one way Barnes Hedgehogs is making life in the big city a little easier for its most prickly residents.

[h/t Atlas Obscura]

Big Questions
Where Should You Place the Apostrophe in President's Day?

Happy Presidents’ Day! Or is it President’s Day? Or Presidents Day? What you call the national holiday depends on where you are, who you’re honoring, and how you think we’re celebrating.

Saying "President’s Day" infers that the day belongs to a singular president, such as George Washington or Abraham Lincoln, whose birthdays are the basis for the holiday. On the other hand, referring to it as "Presidents’ Day" means that the day belongs to all of the presidents—that it’s their day collectively. Finally, calling the day "Presidents Day"—plural with no apostrophe—would indicate that we’re honoring all POTUSes past and present (yes, even Andrew Johnson), but that no one president actually owns the day.

You would think that in the nearly 140 years since "Washington’s Birthday" was declared a holiday in 1879, someone would have officially declared a way to spell the day. But in fact, even the White House itself hasn’t chosen a single variation for its style guide. They spelled it “President’s Day” here and “Presidents’ Day” here.

Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Maybe that indecision comes from the fact that Presidents Day isn’t even a federal holiday. The federal holiday is technically still called “Washington’s Birthday,” and states can choose to call it whatever they want. Some states, like Iowa, don’t officially acknowledge the day at all. And the location of the punctuation mark is a moot point when individual states choose to call it something else entirely, like “George Washington’s Birthday and Daisy Gatson Bates Day” in Arkansas, or “Birthdays of George Washington/Thomas Jefferson” in Alabama. (Alabama loves to split birthday celebrations, by the way; the third Monday in January celebrates both Martin Luther King, Jr., and Robert E. Lee.)

You can look to official grammar sources to declare the right way, but even they don’t agree. The AP Stylebook prefers “Presidents Day,” while Chicago Style uses “Presidents’ Day.”

The bottom line: There’s no rhyme or reason to any of it. Go with what feels right. And even then, if you’re in one of those states that has chosen to spell it “President’s Day”—Washington, for example—and you use one of the grammar book stylings instead, you’re still technically wrong.

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