(CNN) – How many mandarins can you buy with a million yen – or about $ 9,600?
For a fruit-loving buyer at auction this week in Japan, the answer is only 100.
A single 20-kilogram box containing 100 Japanese mandarins (also called mikan) was auctioned on Thursday at the central Ota wholesale market in Tokyo.
It was the first auction of the year for Satsuma mandarins, a famous citrus from Ehime Prefecture, on Shikoku Island in southern Japan.
Nishiuwa is one of the mikan-producing regions of Ehime and its semi-seedless orange-citrus varieties are known for their balance of rich and sweet flavors, their easy-to-peel, thin skin, and their mouth-melting texture.
The most expensive Nishiuwa mandarins come from one of the leading brands in the region – Hinomaru.
“Hinomaru Mikan is made in a limited area on the coast of Yawatahama City in Ehime Prefecture,” Shin Asai of JA Nishiuwa’s sales department told CNN. “It’s a mikan that grew from what are known as three suns – the actual sun, the light reflected from the sea, and the light reflected from the stone walls of the terraced fields.”
Only about 100 farmers produce this particular type of mikan in the region.
“Hinomaru Mikan was of particularly good quality this year,” adds Asai.
This box of tangerines sold for one million Japanese yen ($ 9,579).
According to a representative from the Nishiuwa Agriculture Association, the highest bid at Thursday’s auction was seen as a “very solemn price” for the start of the Japanese mikan season.
“Since the quality of each year’s fruit is assessed at the first auction, it will have a major impact on subsequent sales,” says Asai. “The first auction is very important for the fruit industry.”
The typical price for this type of high-end tangerine is usually JPY 7,800 (or $ 75) for 10 kilograms.
It was not the first time that the sweet mandarins fetched such an amazing price in an auction – the highest bid price last year was also in the millions.
“Given the negative impact Covid-19 had on the economy, we were surprised and delighted that it was auctioned for one million yen,” says Asai.
Sweet and expensive
The first auction for Satsuma mandarins was the start of the fruit season.
The identity of the highest bidder is unknown for the time being, but Asai believes it will be revealed within a few days.
“A high-end supermarket bought it last year and used it to advertise the store,” says Asai.
“Fruits are treated differently in Asian culture, and especially in Japanese society,” Soyeon Shim, dean of the School of Human Ecology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, told CNN in 2019. “Buying and consuming fruit is on social and cultural practices bound.
Ehime Prefecture is famous for its sweet tangerines and Nishiuwa is one of the largest tangerine producing regions in the prefecture.
“Not only is it an important part of their diet, but, perhaps more importantly, fruit is viewed as a luxury item and plays an important and elaborate ritual role in Japan’s extensive gifting practices.”
Ehime ranks second in terms of total tangerine production after Wakayama Prefecture, in terms of total production of over 40 different types of citrus, including satsumas. His local mascot is a cartoon orange named Mikyan.