The sales season starts in May. Stores will advertise their arrival.
They are grown in Yubari, Hokkaido, 1 1/2 hours from Sapporo. Yubari is a town of 14,000 people (as of 2005.)
Yubari grew cantaloupes before the Second World War. Production stopped altogether during the war. After the war, Yubari farmers thought they might as well try other things such as asparagus and potatoes, but the results were never as good as they had had for melons. They crossbred their original melon with one from Europe, and got the one they grow today, called “Yubari King.”
Growers in Yubari started creating the Yubari brand in the early 1950s. A cooperative was started with 17 farmers in 1960. Now (as of 2005), there around 200 farmers in the cooperative.
All growers must belong to the Yubari Agricultural Cooperative Association that controls supply and thus the price. Farmers have to sell to the association. They can’t sell directly to buyers. The Association says it is to protect quality. The Cooperative is vigilant for counterfeits.
The soil the melons are grown in is volcanic ash. It’s not what’s in the volcanic soil, but how the soil behaves. It lets growers there easily control the temperature of the soil, and the ash lets water quickly drain through, allowing for the top to remain dry, which promotes the size of the melons.
The melons are grown in long, vinyl greenhouses. They are planted in February, as soon as the snow is gone. The first ones are ready for harvest 105 days after planting. The growing season ends in early September.
The melons are harvested by hand from their vines with scissors. They are brought to the Cooperative, where they are washed, quality checked and graded. There are 4 grades. The grades are based on sweetness. Melons can be rejected if they are not sweet enough, or too sweet.
They are usually shipped by air, even within Japan, to meet their short best-before window. The profit margins also allow this kind of luxury.
They are best eaten within 2 to 3 days of harvesting, as the flesh is turning from green to orange.
Choose ones that feel heavy for their size, and that have strong, green stems on them. The bottom should have a little bit of give in it.
Nestlé in Japan makes Yubari-flavoured Kit-Kat chocolate bars.
The melon business in Yubari has become important now that the coal mining industry in the town collapsed.
Yubari also hosts the annual “Yubari International Fantastic Film Festival.”