The Crown Melon: Born from Innovation and Tradition

Hamamatsu City has the longest
sunshine hours in Japan with a relatively warm climate. What takes the greatest
advantage of this environment are muskmelons grown there. Its history spans
about a 100 years.

Crown Melons Ready to Eat (2019)Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries

Out of a variety of muskmelons, the one that’s currently being harvested in Hamamatsu is the highest quality known as the “Crown Melon. It combines an elegant, delicate sweetness with juicy, mouth-watering texture, and exhibits rich and refreshing aroma that resembles that of “musk” (flavor of a secretion fluid of a musk deer), which is the root word for “マスク” (“musk” spelled and pronounced in Japanese). The shipping requirements such as appearance inspections and sugar content tests are very strict, which makes it an unusual fruit that always needs to meet a high quality standard, as shipping is only permitted after all criteria have been satisfied.

Crown Melon Fruit (2019)Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries

Nurtured strictly and sweetly

Melons in Hamamatsu City are cultivated slightly differently from melons cultivated in other prefectures. Their method is known as the “one tree, one fruit” method that has been handed down since 100 years ago. By ultimately leaving only one fruit on each sapling, nutrition can be concentrated inside a single fruit, creating an explosion of taste.

Crown Melon Blossoms (2019)Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries

Melons take about 100 days to harvest from the day the seeds are planted. The harvesting season is different for each house, and are planted strategically so that it can be harvested throughout the year. But since there’s a limit to the number of saplings that can be planted in a given house, it’s not really a viable method if efficiency alone is taken into consideration. But it is this inefficient method of carefully nurturing each fruit that produces a melon that’s said to be of the finest quality. It is then labeled with the character “丁,” which indicates that it was grown via the “one tree, one fruit” method.

Beautiful Crown Melons Waiting for Harvest (2019)Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries

It’s also unique in the way it’s not directly planted in the ground, but rather in an “isolation bed” that is placed separately. For soil, a clay-based field soil brought from a rice field is used. This cultivation method allows total control of its water content, as well as the melon's growth. By purposefully having a period without any watering which causes them stress, the melons start acquiring more glucose, and grow into a more delicious harvest.

Crown Melons Cracking on the Surface (2019)Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries

Crown Melon Seedlings (2019)Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries

“They are all watered by hand. By relying on our intuition cultivated from years of experience, we make micro-adjustments while observing the weather. Watering is especially important at the initial stage. It’s important to grow good roots that try to extend out and find a water source by themselves. Melon cultivation is almost like parenting, where properly-mannered children cannot be born from overprotecting them too much by giving them too much water (laughs),”

says Masataka Negi, who has been cultivating melons here for more than 40 years. There are a total of 360 melons grown in their green houses, which are all harvested in different seasons. They watch over the growth of each melon every day, and nurture them like their own children by quietly observing them at times, but also compassionately caring for them on other occasions.

Mr. Masataka Negi Who Grows Crown Melons (2019)Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries

A master who manipulates the exquisite balance of sun, temperature, and moisture

In Hamamatsu, melons are cultivated in a glass-covered greenhouse. Cultivation began 100 years ago with a small, glass greenhouse with wooden frames. A glass is used because melons need as much sunlight as possible in order to grow deliciously. Glass is clearer than vinyl, so sunlight can reach the melon more efficiently. Roofs of greenhouses in Hamamatsu are built facing south, and parts of the roof facing north are built shorter. The isolation beds in the greenhouse are raised higher as you move toward north, which is designed to take in as much sunlight as possible, even during the winter with short sunshine hours.

Shizuoka Greenhouse Melon: A Greenhouse for Melon Cultivation (2019)Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries

In addition, the windows on the roof open and close automatically depending on the temperature and the weather, and pipes that circulate hot water are installed throughout the greenhouse so that it can be warmed up during winter. This is because temperature has to be delicately controlled like the amount of sunlight when cultivating a melon. The balance between temperature control and water content is also related to how beautiful the melon’s outer “net” turns out, which is the representative characteristic of muskmelons. If the net does not come out beautifully, it is said that they may not be able to sell it, no matter how delicious it is.

Crown Melons That Bathe in Sunlight and Grow Large (2019)Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries

“When the interior grows faster than the skin, cracks form, and this is how nets form on melons. This requires a perfect balance between sunlight, temperature and water content. If it's grown slowly and gently, a nice net will form, but if grown rapidly, it will crack open, and will no longer be aesthetically pleasing. But a good net will not form if it’s grown too slowly either. It’s very delicate. If anything, it’s easier to control the temperature during winter, but hard during summer.”

Recording Daily Weather and Morning Temperatures (2019)Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries

In the last few years, weather has been unstable nationwide, which has significantly impacted the crop cultivation. This especially affects the growth of melons, which require a certain amount of sunshine. Mr. Negi monitors changes in the weather 365 days a year without a break, and records the weather and temperature everyday as a habit. He says that even after taking in all the data, he still faces difficulty, as the melons will not turn out the same each year.

Mr. Masataka Negi Who Grows Crown Melons (2019)Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries

“No matter how much you record it, nature never stays the same every year. Neither watering nor temperature control can be automated. The difficult part is that you have to make the best decision at each moment. But how it doesn’t always go the way you want it to, is what also makes it interesting. Melons are very honest; if the producer starts ‘slacking,’ melons also start ‘slacking’ as well.”

It takes time and effort, but sometimes doesn’t go the way you intended to. Mr. Negi’s positive spirit of craftsmanship in being fond of such difficulty must surely be diffusing into the melons that he creates, leading to its delicious taste. And his insatiable pursuit of perfection will keep on continuing.

Crown Melons Grown by Mr. Masataka Negi (2019)Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries

“I always have this desire to create the best, highest quality melon as possible. It's also fun to see how much it will go for in the market. At the time of shipment, we label it with crown melon seals, which are imprinted with a unique number given to each farmer. Each farmer has their own unique cultivation method, and puts their own unique effort into their melons, so they never come out the same, even though we’re all growing the same kind of melon. That’s why I keep striving to create the best so that customers would recognize my number and choose us in the end.”

Credits: Story

Cooperation with:
Mr. Masataka Negi

Photos: Yusuke Abe (YARD)
Text: Orika Uchiumi
Edit: Saori Hayashida
Production: Skyrocket Corporation

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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