A premium watermelon with a dark green rind grown in Hokkaido, northern Japan, fetched 220,000 yen ($2,050) Monday in the year's first auction, less than one-third the record price marked last year amid the novel coronavirus outbreak.
Auctioneers wearing face shields as an anti-virus measure began inviting bids for the premium Densuke watermelons at 6:50 a.m. at a fresh-produce market in Asahikawa. A total of 71 watermelons were sold.
"The novel coronavirus outbreak had a large impact (on the price), and the fall was predictable," said a market official.
The highest price paid for the watermelon, a signature product of the town of Toma, at last year's auction was 750,000 yen.
The successful bidder this year was Madoka Sato, a 38-year-old manager of a local e-commerce company.
"I took part to show support for farmers," Sato said.
The local farmers' cooperative in Toma said it plans to ship around 55,000 Densuke watermelons this year, with shipments expected to increase toward the peak season in the first half of July.
Hokkaido, the country's northernmost main island and a popular tourist destination, has seen a high number of coronavirus infections along with Tokyo and some other urban areas.
A pair of Yubari melons, another premium Hokkaido fruit, sold for 120,000 yen in the season's first auction in late May, just 2.4 percent of the price at last year's auction.
Premium fruits and other luxury foods often fetch very high prices at first auctions in Japan, with buyers -- often restaurants -- using successful bids for promotional purposes.