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Pair of Japanese cantaloupe melons fetch $19,600 at auction

TOKYO (AFP) - A pair of cantaloupe melons sold at auction in Japan on Friday for 1.6 million yen (S$19,600), one of the highest prices ever paid for the coveted orange-fleshed fruit.

A local fruit wholesaler snapped up the 3.7-kg Yubari melons at the high-end fruit and vegetable sale, which took place on the first day of the season for the prestigious melons.

It was the third-highest price ever paid for the luxury melon brand and cost the equivalent of splashing out on a small car.

In a country where a single apple can cost more than US$5 (S$6.23) and a presentation pack of 20 cherries sells for over US$100, Japanese shoppers are used to paying high prices for their fruit.

But the eye-watering figures paid at the Sapporo Central Wholesale Market in northern Hokkaido reflect buyers' desire for prestige.

Yubari melons are considered a status symbol in Japan like a fine wine, with many buyers presenting them as a gift to friends and colleagues.

A pair sold at auction for a record 2.5 million yen in 2008, partially due to a degree of sympathy for the town of Yubari that produces the melons and which went bust in 2007.

The best-quality Yubari melons are perfect spheres with a smooth, evenly patterned rind.

A T-shaped stalk is left on the fruit, which is usually sold in an ornate box.