Only in Japan would a $4000 watermelon be a sign of recession. The Japanese are notorious for paying sky-high prices to buy luxury foods at auction—$900 for a bunch of grapes, $2000 for a pair of mangos, $400,000 for a single tuna. Paying astronomical sums for top quality can be a mark of honor for wealthy Japanese customers and businesses.
The most coveted watermelon variety is the Densuke, which are grown exclusive on Hokkaido, in northern Japan and are prized for their black rinds and sweet, crisp flesh. The highest prices go to the 100 Densuke watermelons sold on the first day of their season, which came yesterday this year. The priciest of the lot was sold for 300,000 yen—$3743 as of 10 this morning—to Isetan Department store, who will in turn sell the melon for 315,000 yen. But this is down sharply from 2008, the record year, when the top Densuke was sold for 650,000 yen—or $6100.
Typical Japanese fruit, of course, doesn't cost thousands of dollars. But it doesn't come cheap: a normal watermelon might cost $30, and one specially grown to be square-shaped costs about $80.