US politicians would not last five minutes under these ethical standards

Japan’s trade minister has resigned because of violating election laws. What he did will shock you.

Media reports said Isshu Sugawara gave his Tokyo constituents expensive melons, oranges, roe and royal jelly.

He is also said to have offered “condolence money” of 20,000 Japanese yen ($185; £145) to the family of a supporter.

Japan’s election law bans politicians from sending donations to voters in their home constituency.

The magazine also printed lists of gifts that had been sent by his office, including cod roe and oranges, as well as the thank you letters he allegedly received from the recipients.

My attention was caught by the mention of melons. I read in Dave Barry Does Japan that melons are highly valued as gifts in Japan and can be incredibly pricey. If you are invited to someone’s home, giving them a melon as a gift means that you hold them in great regard. Of course, Barry is a wacky humorist so one is never quite sure whether he is being serious but it turns out that he was not kidding.

[A] peek inside the sparkling glass display cases at any of Sembikiya’s Tokyo outlets reveals expensive treasures of a surprising kind.

From heart-shaped watermelons to “Ruby Roman” grapes, which are the size of a ping pong ball, this retailer specializes in selling mouth-watering produce at eye-watering prices.

Expensive, carefully-cultivated fruit, however, is not unique to Sembikiya’s stores.

Across Japan, such products regularly sell for tens of thousands of dollars at auction. In 2016, a pair of premium Hokkaido cantaloupe sold for a record $27,240 (3 million yen).

“Fruits are treated differently in Asian culture and in Japanese society especially,” Soyeon Shim, dean of the School of Human Ecology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, tells CNN. “Fruit purchase and consumption are tied to social and cultural practices.

“It is not only an important part of their diet, but, perhaps more importantly, fruit is considered a luxury item and plays an important and elaborate ritual part in Japan’s extensive gift-giving practices.”

So my question is why growers in countries like the US, where fruits are cheap, are not exporting a lot of them to Japan to take advantage of the price differential.


  1. fentex says

    Japan may not allow cheaper imports -- they have quite a few restrictions on the import of agriculture (much to New Zealands irritation).

    If the TPPA had been what was claimed to be, instead of being warped into a U.S aligned Trade Bloc, this is exactly the kind of potential issue it would have addressed. But it didn’t.

  2. kiriboshidaikon says

    Melons are imported, for example from countries like Mexico, and sold in supermarkets for about US$4. Domestic melons are sold for similar prices in the season. Outrageously expensive melons have received certain prices at agricultural exhibitions.

    On the other hand, a few years ago a minister had to resign because she had distributed cheap paper fans (US$1 each or less) at campaign events:

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