Back in Time…

The beginning of Sembikiya

The beginning of Sembikiya

In 1834 Benzo Ohshima, an unemployed samurai in Senbikingo, Musashinokuni (today Senbiki, Saitama) opened a store with a sign that read Mizugashi Yasuuri Dokoro. Literary meaning Fruit Discount Store, it was established in Fukiya Cho (today Ningyo-cho 3-chome in Nihonbashi) and traded fruits and vegetables. By the year 1867, the store was relocated to Nihonbashi-Honcho by Daijiro Ohshima, who was part of the third generation of the founding family. Focusing on importing fruits as well as improving the quality of the domestically grown ones, the shop was soon renamed as Sembikiya. Unfolding a new chapter, Sembikiya opened Japan’s first fruit parlour in 1887, which became popular as a fruit cafe. This was only the beginning of the expansion of the store. From 1960 onwards, under the guidance of its fifth president, Daijiro Ohshima and successors several shops in different locations, restaurants and sweet factories were added to the brand as well. 

In 1971, Daijiro Ohshima built the main store of the brand, which has remained as the flagship store. Having undergone some renovations in 2005, the Nihonbashi Flagship Store revealed a new outlook infusing touches of modernity and sophistication that attracted even more customers. 

Having undergone some renovations in 2005, the Nihonbashi Flagship Store revealed a new outlook infusing touches of modernity and sophistication that attracted even more customers

Nihonbashi Flagship Store

Situated in the Nihonbashi Mitsui Tower, Sembikiya occupies the first and second floor where Caffe di Festa, Wine and Dining De/Meter, the shop, fruit parlour and restaurant are spread in a spacious setting. However, from all the different options available, perhaps the most fascinating would be the Fruit Parlour, which is also renowned as a gift shop. Hued in wooden tones and light shades with luscious fruits placed in deftly arrayed shelves, the Fruit Parlour invites guests to weave through the numerous racks to explore the fruits in store. Further, soft and fine lighting highlights the colour and the shape of each fruit while small yet enchanting embellishments help to accentuate the display.

It is believed that Sembikiya first initiated the custom of giving expensive fruits as gifts especially for Ochugen and Oseibo, special gift giving occassions that fall during the middle and end of the year respectively. The tradition of giving fruits also extends to celebratory occasions such as weddings and get-well gifts as well.

Ruby red apples and queen strawberries, oranges, square watermelons, densuke watermelons of a perfect round shape, succulent grapes and cherries and more, are all presented for the enjoyment of discerning fruit lovers and gift givers. If one’s fancy is to gift a medley of fruits, that is also possible as Sembikiya carries a range of assorted fruits. Neatly tied with dainty bows, swathed in wrapping paper or even snuggled in a basket, the presentation of the fruits plays a significant part in enticing visitors of Sembikiya. When preparing a medley, especially in a basket, the employees pay attention to the different shades and taste of the fruits to ensure an assortment that complement each other in all aspects. 

The fruits in store are expensive to say the least and the prices are rightly justified by the loyal fan base who will swear by the taste and quality of each fruit

The fruits in store are expensive to say the least and the prices are rightly justified by the loyal fan base who will swear by the taste and quality of each fruit. From an apple priced at USD 21 to the most expensive fruit in store—the Yubari Cantaloupe that can range from USD 100 or ¥10,800, Sembikiya boasts of painstaking attention to detail when cultivating the best. For instance, the Musk melon or the Yubari Cantaloupe, one of the most sought after fruits due to its price as well as the repute it has as the ‘king of fruits’, has an intriguing ‘from-the-farm-to-store’ story. Only selling Musk melons grown in the Shizuoka prefecture, the melons are grown in specially designed greenhouses. Each of the melons are suspended away from the ground and the vines are pruned so as to yield a single fruit. A special covering, similar to that of a hat, is used to protect the fruit from the sun while year-around temperature is regulated by heaters during the winter time and air conditioners during summer. The ideal melon is required to have a perfect spherical shape with an even net like webbing running around. To achieve this, a technique known as ‘ball wiping’ is used. The T-shaped stalk atop the fruit must also be present signifying the care that the farmers have to take when harvesting the fruit. And the final product is a melon that is celebrated for its rich musk-like scent and mouthwatering sweetness and rich taste. 

Next time you are in Tokyo, do not forget to wander into the Sembikiya Fruit Parlour to bite into the most flavoursome and expensive fruits in the world!

*All values in ¥ have been converted to the nearest dollar amount