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    A fruit on fruits

    Occasionally, friends from back home will ask me, “So, is Japan really as expensive as they say?” I’m usually guffawing too hard to answer. Of course, there are qualifications to be made: Tokyo is uncommonly expensive for Japan, just as New York is uncommonly expensive for America. I’ve heard people say that the regional cities are more reasonable–Atsushi says so about the mid-sized city he lives in now, and I visited ex-boyfriends in their hometowns of Sendai and Sapporo and saw a noticeable difference. Anyway, Connie and I have been having a back-and-forth about what sorts of behavior are “Pennsylvanian,” and it reminded me of my trip to the grocery store yesterday. Every week, I splurge on something even more overpriced than normal–maybe a little carton of fresh raspberries, or a mango from the Philippines (as soft and sweet as its government’s position on terrorists–don’t let anyone give you that “the Mexican ones are better” jazz), or whatever’s in season–along with the stuff I base my meals on.

    Well, the first rhubarb of the season is coming into the stores, so I decided to go for it. This image tells you a lot about Tokyo life (for the people who do the grocery shopping, that is):


    The large, visible “331” is the tax-included price. It converts to US $2.84.

    A single, slender zucchini will be attentively wrapped the same way and costs about the same–well, it’s usually closer to 310 yen, but same difference. Of course, having grown up in a part of PA that was slowly going from rural to suburban/edge-city, I spent the first twenty years of my life thinking of zucchini and rhubarb as things you paid other people to take off your hands. You know, late summer and early fall are when bags of zucchini play Chinese fire drill. Everyone with a vegetable garden has too many, all the kids in the county are threatening to run away from home if Mom forces one more slice of zucchini bread on them, everyone eats more spaghetti than usual because you can cut the tomato sauce with a lot of zucchini puree before anyone notices. The rhubarb situation is never quite as bad, but every household seems to have at least one resident who flat-out refuses to eat anything with rhubarb, and most people don’t want to eat stewed fruit that often, so it still takes a while to eat down the surplus.

    All of which is to say, I’m sitting here with my rhubarb on household chore day and thinking, Sheesh! $7.50/lb. This had better be a damned good pie…I mean, largish tart, which is what I have enough for.

    And the summer fruits here, while good, don’t measure up to the nectarines, peaches, and plums we got at the farmers’ market when I was little. That doesn’t make the quality worse, necessarily; I just find Japanese peaches a bit on the perfumy side in taste.

    Of course, living in Japan has its compensating pleasures. Figs don’t seem to have caught on much in America, but in season, they’re available at every supermarket and fruit stand here. And Japanese persimmons, while a shock to the palate if you bite into one expecting it to taste like the persimmons of the American South, are one of the joys of fall once your tastes adjust. You see them ripening on the trees, and the wind suddenly feels a bit cooler and lonelier, and you know summer’s ending.

    Given the kiln that is Tokyo during July and August, I’d welcome that feeling right about now, actually. Well, after I thoroughly enjoy my rhubarb.

    Added at 17:40: Of course, you can’t always be sure where your broccoli came from, among other potential pitfalls of produce-buying.

    2 Responses to “A fruit on fruits”

    1. Kris says:

      I think this is my favorite post yet. Who knew memories of zucchini and rhubarb could bring me close to tears? I had not thought of the late-summer zucchini/rhubarb (as well as, in Maine, apple) swap-fest.
      I’m feeling motivated now to get my camera-phone and send you a pic of how much rhubarb $2.84 will buy you in Brooklyn.
      By the way – I found that Rhubarb makes an EXCELLENT schnopps – just get the cheapest vodka you can find, a mason jar, and some sugar with that rhubarb. Add about a cup or so of sugar, chop up the rhubarb, put them both in the mason jar, fill with vodka, and let it sit for six-eight weeks. As tasty as pie, and better than stewy-sludge (which I also like…)

    2. Sean Kinsell says:

      I doubt my entire crisper drawer could accommodate $2.84 worth of rhubarb from Brooklyn or anywhere else in the States. Well, maybe Anchorage. Or Honolulu.