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.

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Win a Trip to Any National Park By Instagramming Your Travels
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If you're planning out your summer vacation, make sure to add a few national parks to your itinerary. Every time you share your travels on Instagram, you can increase your chances of winning a VIP trip for two to the national park of your choice.

The National Park Foundation is hosting its "Pic Your Park" sweepstakes now through September 28. To participate, post your selfies from visits to National Park System (NPS) properties on Instagram using the hashtag #PicYourParkContest and a geotag of the location. Making the trek to multiple parks increases your points, with less-visited parks in the system having the highest value. During certain months, the point values of some sites are doubled. You can find a list of participating properties and a schedule of boost periods here.

Following the contest run, the National Park Foundation will decide a winner based on most points earned. The grand prize is a three-day, two-night trip for the winner and a guest to any NPS property within the contiguous U.S. Round-trip airfare and hotel lodging are included. The reward also comes with a 30-day lease of a car from Subaru, the contest's sponsor.

The contest is already underway, with a leader board on the website keeping track of the competition. If you're looking to catch up, this national parks road trip route isn't a bad place to start.

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15 Dad Facts for Father's Day
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Gather 'round the grill and toast Dad for Father's Day—the national holiday so awesome that Americans have celebrated it for more than a century. Here are 15 Dad facts you can wow him with today.

1. Halsey Taylor invented the drinking fountain in 1912 as a tribute to his father, who succumbed to typhoid fever after drinking from a contaminated public water supply in 1896.

2. George Washington, the celebrated father of our country, had no children of his own. A 2004 study suggested that a type of tuberculosis that Washington contracted in childhood may have rendered him sterile. He did adopt the two children from Martha Custis's first marriage.

3. In Thailand, the king's birthday also serves as National Father's Day. The celebration includes fireworks, speeches, and acts of charity and honor—the most distinct being the donation of blood and the liberation of captive animals.

4. In 1950, after a Washington Post music critic gave Harry Truman's daughter Margaret's concert a negative review, the president came out swinging: "Some day I hope to meet you," he wrote. "When that happens you'll need a new nose, a lot of beefsteak for black eyes, and perhaps a supporter below!"

5. A.A. Milne created Winnie the Pooh for his son, Christopher Robin. Pooh was based on Robin's teddy bear, Edward, a gift Christopher had received for his first birthday, and on their father/son visits to the London Zoo, where the bear named Winnie was Christopher's favorite. Pooh comes from the name of Christopher's pet swan.

6. Kurt Vonnegut was (for a short time) Geraldo Rivera's father-in-law. Rivera's marriage to Edith Vonnegut ended in 1974 because of his womanizing. Her ever-protective father was quoted as saying, "If I see Gerry again, I'll spit in his face." He also included an unflattering character named Jerry Rivers (a chauffeur) in a few of his books.

7. Andre Agassi's father represented Iran in the 1948 and 1952 Olympics as a boxer.

8. Charlemagne, the 8th-century king of the Franks, united much of Western Europe through military campaigns and has been called the "king and father of Europe" [PDF]. Charlemagne was also a devoted dad to about 18 children, and today, most Europeans may be able to claim Charlemagne as their ancestor.

9. The voice of Papa Smurf, Don Messick, also provided the voice of Scooby-Doo, Ranger Smith on Yogi Bear, and Astro and RUDI on The Jetsons.

10. In 2001, Yuri Usachev, cosmonaut and commander of the International Space Station, received a talking picture frame from his 12-year-old daughter while in orbit. The gift was made possible by RadioShack, which filmed the presentation of the gift for a TV commercial.

11. The only father-daughter collaboration to hit the top spot on the Billboard pop music chart was the 1967 hit single "Something Stupid" by Frank & Nancy Sinatra.

12. In the underwater world of the seahorse, it's the male that gets to carry the eggs and birth the babies.

13. If show creator/producer Sherwood Schwartz had gotten his way, Gene Hackman would have portrayed the role of father Mike Brady on The Brady Bunch.

14. The Stevie Wonder song "Isn't She Lovely" is about his newborn daughter, Aisha. If you listen closely, you can hear Aisha crying during the song.

15. Dick Hoyt has pushed and pulled his son Rick, who has cerebral palsy, through hundreds of marathons and triathlons. Rick cannot speak, but using a custom-designed computer he has been able to communicate. They ran their first five-mile race together when Rick was in high school. When they were done, Rick sent his father this message: "Dad, when we were running, it felt like I wasn't disabled anymore!"

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