It’s summer, and Ochuugen, the Japanese season of giving, is upon us.
Looking for a gift for grandma, whom you’ll be visiting in a few days, you anxiously wander into the heart of Tokyo’s Nihonbashi neighbourhood. You come across what, at first glance, appears to be a Japanese take on a Cartier outlet and notice that this jewellery boutique flaunts rather strange wares. On closer inspection, to your surprise, the gilded shelves are lined with nothing other than bushels of apples and punnets of strawberries.
This is Sembikiya, where a melon might cost only slightly less than a diamond-studded necklace.
Around 180 years ago at its inception, Sembikiya was a modest store, marked only by a sign with mizugashi tasuuri dokoro (which translates to fruits discount store) painted on it - a far cry from the brand in its current form. Samurai Benzo Ohshima started the business as a neighbourhood greengrocer, and the brand only grew from there. Passed down over generations, the store evolved into its current iteration, with its name evolving as well, lest the original stand out against fancy lightboxes as a garish oxymoronic misnomer.
Before and After. Photo: Sembikiya