The Same, but Different

I’m finding the produce situation in Japan to be quite interesting.

For the most part, you can get the same things here that you can get in the states. In fact, I’m finding vegetables (and roots) I’ve never seen before so the options here may be even greater (though, the quantities, as I’ve mentioned before, are lower).

But I’m still noticing a huge difference between the fruits and veggies in the US versus Japan.

Bananas, for example. They’re more expensive here (what isn’t?) but they are also a bit different. They look the same for the most part, but they ripen much faster. You can buy a banana that is yellow with tips of green (the way we like them) and within 24 hours they are always soft and going brown. The skin even gets a wrinkly texture right away. People here seem to prefer them that way. At one produce shop we reached for a yellow/green bunch and the clerk pushed for us to take a yellow/brown bunch instead, saying they’re better. Um, no. The bananas are also stringier on the inside and don’t taste as good. I’ve also never had banana peals that crumble…but I consistently have peals that fall apart as I peal them back, littering little pieces below me.

Then there are the cucumbers. Cucumbers in the US are fat and crisp. Even English Cucumbers are fat compared to the ones here. In Japan, they’re the width of a magic marker, flexible, and bumpy. There are no seeds and they taste less fresh.

Cauliflower is tiny here, but more expensive (a small head half the size of my fist can go for $5.00). Fortunately, these taste the same. Broccoli is also smaller, but cheaper at $2.50 per crown.  Unrelated, but why do people buy a head of lettuce or cauliflower but buy a crown of broccoli?

I’ve seen only three types of apples and they’re all crap (and go for over $2.00 per apple). They don’t have granny smith here, what they do have is rather flavorless and soft.

Mayonnaise here is sold in transparent soft tubes and not plastic containers. We’ve not opened it yet so I cant comment on the taste.

Beer can be purchased in vending machines found all over the city streets. I’m assuming there is a legal drinking age but I’m not sure how it can be enforced if you don’t even need to speak to a person to buy alcohol.

I’ve read that the Japanese government, to help domestic farmers, practically bans the importation of any fruits and vegetables that can otherwise be grown on Japanese soil. Consequently, this jacks up the prices so that it’s ridiculously expensive to purchase produce here. If they allowed the importation of more varieties of produce, prices would drop….as the quality goes up. Yeah, it would suck for the 20,000 or so farmers, but you’d be helping over 127,000.000 citizens get access to more varieties of flavorful food. Right now, you get very little for the amount you pay. Watermelons only the size of a cantaloupe for $80? I don’t think so.

Does it make me a loser that the things I’m looking most forward to in the US (aside from family and friends, of course) are granny smith apples, d’anjou pears, bananas, and cucumbers?

Oh, and pizza. Japanese pizza is not very good. And although Dominoes delivers in our neighborhood, I’m not willing to spend $44.00 for a pizza (seriously, that’s the price for the same exact pizza you get in the US). Of course I wouldn’t order Dominoes pizza in any country, but I’m looking forward to my first pizza delivery when I get back.



  1. Comment by Ryszard Kilarski on July 27, 2012 11:25 am

    Funny what you said about mayo in tubes… in Buenos Aires, mayo and ketchup (and maybe other condiments?) are also sold in tubes that, to my eyes, look funny. I kind of remember the same thing in France and the UK. So maybe it’s just our products in the US that are strange…

    Bananas are a funny thing, they’re very fragile to transport and they ripen quickly. My dad used to design banana-transporting containers for his company (and then for Dole) which includes refrigeration units and an ambient gas to keep the bananas from ripening. There’s also a really good book called “Banana: The Fruit that Change the World” where you learn about how all bananas are genetic clones of each other and there are a ton of varieties in Central America but only one is transported to the rest of the world since that is the only one that is strong enough (the Cavendish banana)–and also that there’s a disease ready to wipe out the worldwide banana crop any year now, so they’re furiously looking for a new variant to cultivate.

    I love books like that. End of lecture.

    Oh, and sorry about the apples, I love Granny Smiths.

  2. Comment by Keith on July 27, 2012 1:34 pm

    Oh Karl, you’re literally living an MBA class in globalization! I had forgotten about the weird Japanese farmer subsidies I learned about just last fall.

  3. Comment by snarl on July 28, 2012 11:08 am

    Rich – I love information like that…Cavendish bananas. Who knew!?!?!?!

    Keith – I’m glad to hear you read a case study (or something) regarding Japanese agriculture. I was fearing that what I heard was rumor. Thanks for substantiating it.

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